In September 2022, the Council of State called the first municipal elections since the 2019 Constitution came into effect. The first round will take place on November 27, 2022; and the second round will be held on December 4, in the districts where it’s needed.
In the lead-up to these elections, El Toque will be dedicating several articles, to answer questions about the Cuban people’s position regarding elections in the country.
Elections under a totalitarian government?
In Cuba, the electoral system doesn’t respond to a logic of parties or competition. The mere existence of a party other than the Communist Party is illegal and political unity is a philosophy. As a result, the Communist Party’s control over the Cuban State doesn’t depend on balance or rotation that could come from elections.
Political forces that aren’t loyal to the Communist Party can’t reach positions of real power – in practice or by legal means – under Cuba’s current system. Not only because the Communist Party, the bureaucracy that upholds it and its repressive forces hold onto their political monopoly with force, but also because the electoral system is designed to stop the masses from legitimizing actors out of the Communist Party’s control.
Therefore, elections in Cuba aren’t momentous and are subject to the Communist Party and state institutions’ complete control. This control is expressed in three main ways:
- By blocking nominations of members of the political opposition.
- Local and National Assemblies’ lack of real power in the ruling elite’s decision-making process.
- Nominating committees that decide on the Assemblies’ leadership.
Many opposition movements have chosen to take part in Cuban elections, on different occasions. In 1989, Roberto Bahamonde Massot, a member of Cuba’s Human Rights Party, was one of the first to try and be elected in an assembly to nominate candidates. He did this as an independent candidate because most members of his political organization refused to support him as they believed running in the elections was a way to legitimize the system. He nominated himself at the assembly within his district. His candidacy was arbitrarily annulled right there on the spot. Nevertheless, he appealed the legality of this decision and managed to get the nomination assembly he took part in to be repeated. He received support from 30-some people in the public vote in his neighborhood, but he didn’t manage to defeat his opponent, a Ministry of the Interior official.
In 2018, platforms Ciudadanos por el Cambio, Otro 18 and Movimiento Somos+ tried to promote the nomination of some of their candidates in local elections.
Back then, many of the opposition candidates were arrested arbitrarily and interrogated. Plus, illegal means were employed to try and prevent them from being nominated. The proof? A recording of a comment made by the then vice-president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, Miguel Diaz-Canel, during a meeting with Party officials in 2017.
The recording was leaked a few months later. Diaz-Canel, then a vice president, admitted that security forces had identified six movements that wanted to nominate “counter-revolutionary” people as candidates to local assemblies in the 2018 elections. He considered this an attempt by the opposition to legitimize the counter-revolution within Cuban civil society. He also admitted that the Government he represented was taking steps to “discredit this, so that people [have] risk perception” and know who these people are so they can prevent their possible victory.
The result of that strategy? Not a single candidate from the opposition managed to be elected into a local People’s Power assembly. Nevertheless, in 2022, the platform D’Frente and the Consejo de Transicion para una Cuba Democratica have once again pushed for opposition nominations in order to get them elected. But with under two weeks until the elections and after the nomination process ended (November 12, 2022), not a single opposition candidate was nominated. Arbitrary arrests were repeated in some cases to stop candidates from reaching the nomination assemblies.
The Lack of Real Power of those elected to the Municipal Assemblies
One of the Cuban Government’s methods to stop a turnover of power has been to design electoral bodies without regulatory, executive powers and without any real control. People’s assemblies are just ways to legitimize decisions previously made by the real decision-making bodies that are directly connected to the Communist Party.
The elections on November 27th are to elect members of the Local People’s Power Assemblies. Despite the 2019 Constitution introducing the term “municipal autonomy” and the Law for Local Assemblies’ Organization and Functioning having been passed this year, the reality is that local government’s autonomy is still a pipedream within a system that is centralized and bureaucratic by nature.
The Local People’s Power Assemblies have been granted some powers that they can use to work independently. However, they have shown a lack of independence and inability to exploit these powers that the Law grants them, autonomously, such as promoting plebiscites and local consultations.
It is at this local level that we can clearly see who truly holds state power in Cuba. This is where the first secretaries of local Communist Party committees show themselves for who they really are: the highest political and executive authorities in the municipality and province.
District representatives don’t have executive or decisive powers. They just process citizens’ complaints and material needs. Needs and complaints which they have no power to address. However, they are the only ones to show their face and give answers at neighborhood meetings about the results of their work – because no leader with real decision-making power does this.
Meanwhile, the influence district representatives have over the Local People’s Power Assemblies decisions is restricted by the same mechanisms of informal control (State Security bodies) that block the opposition’s candidacies and also because of the way it gives the Assemblies president the power to call sessions and outline the issues that can and can’t be discussed in the plenary sessions.
Local People’s Power Assemblies presidents and vice-presidents are determined by another element of the system: the nominating committees. This ensures that people controlling the Assemblies are ultimately those loyal to the Party, obediently following their instructions.
The only space within Cuban elections that the nominating committees don’t interfere with is the nomination and election of Assembly representatives at the lowest level. However, they intervene in the election of every leading position within the local bodies of People’s Power (local governments), representatives of the National Assembly of People’s Power, members of the Council of State, and the president and vice-president of the Republic.
Nominating committees are groups made up of representatives from the Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC), the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), the Federation of University Students (FEU) and the Federation of High School Students (FEEM). By law, these groups are responsible for drawing up a nomination proposal at a local and national level. Members of nominating committees are appointed by national, provincial and municipal leaders of the organizations they represent.
The fact that members of nominating committees are appointed and that these organizations are transmission belts for the Communist Party’s decisions – in keeping with Leninist thought – ensures that only obedient people who support the Party’s policies ever make it to leading positions and to the highest bodies of state power.
Nomination committees are the real source for legitimizing the Cuban electoral system, not the voting population. The electorate gives their support to one candidate or another in competitive electoral systems. However, in the Cuban system, the intervention of nominating committees guarantees that the electorate is just a ratifier of the decisions the Communist Party has already made, which still publicly says it doesn’t nominate or choose any candidates.
The reality is that the Communist Party doesn’t nominate or choose because it doesn’t need to.
Totalitarian regimes, like Cuba’s own, use elections as a way to get foreign legitimacy and not as a mechanism that ensures real popular participation. In other words, it uses elections to show other Countries and international bodies its political power and the people’s agreement with their system.
Writers such as Leandro Querido, in his book Asi se vota en Cuba (This is how you vote in Cuba), believe that elections are also a way for totalitarian regimes to purge the system from the inside. In his book, Querido cita a Guy Hermet, he believes you can only talk about free elections when “the electoral body isn’t designed and tailored to the Power’s needs.”
There is little doubt that Cuba’s electoral system has been rigged to guarantee a single party’s monopoly of power, the Communist Party. For that reason, and in keeping with Hermet’s logic, it’s hard to believe elections under this system are free.
Elections in Cuba are a classic example of “electoral fraud”.
This article was translated into English from the original in Spanish.
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