October 11 , 2007

Parliamentary Elections in today's Cuba

René Gómez Manzano.

It is a well-known that Cuba's current political system originates from the Constitution of 1975, which went into effect in 1976. What is less known is how the amended 1975 constitution during the 1992 general reform changed the process of electing deputies to the National Assembly of People's Power. Before the Constitution was amended deputies were chosen simply by municipal assemblies, whereas they are now directly elected by voters.

Candidates for a position in the National Assembly of People's Power have been nominated in a complex system since the constitutional reform. Each municipality nominates one deputy per every twenty thousand inhabitants or a fraction higher than ten thousand. However, by law there are never less than two deputies nominated under Article 14 of the Elections Act - Act No. 72 of October 29, 1992. Furthermore, municipalities with more than one hundred thousand inhabitants may be subdivided into districts of no less than fifty thousand inhabitants (Art. 15 EA).

When analysing how these changes affected the supreme power of the existing state, the first thing we have to emphasize is that there is no freedom of proposal for who can be potential candidates. On the contrary, the Elections Act provides for a system of candidacy commissions - apart from one national commission there are several provincial and municipal commissions - and it is these commissions who play a key role in the whole process of nominating the candidates (Art. 67 EA). The commissions are formed by representatives of the following mass organizations (Art.68 EA, number of representatives is not stipulated in the Act though):

· Confederation of Cuban Workers (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba)
· Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (Comités de Defensa de la Revolución)
· Federation of Cuban Women (Federación de Mujeres Cubanas)
· National Association of Small Farmers (Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños)
· University Students' Federation (Federación Estudiantil Universitaria)
· Federation of Secondary School Students (Federación de Estudiantes de la Enseñanza Media)

Official propaganda constantly points out that the Cuban Communist Party, the only political party, does not make any proposals for slates of candidates. This statement is true in a strictly formal sense. Nevertheless, what lies underneath this recurrent topic of official propaganda is completely false. The fact that the Communist Party does not formally intervene in the nomination of candidates does not mean that the whole process could be called democratic and non-totalitarian.

Anyone with even superficial knowledge of Cuba's current political situation would have little doubt that these "mass organizations" are controlled and supervised by the Communist Party. The Party uses these institutions as "mouthpieces" to impose its policies over the various social sectors of Cuban society.

Even if we accepted that the current system of nominating candidates was not a manifestation of the absolute power a single party state can wield over an entire society, the chosen method would not lose its totalitarian nature. Obviously, when there are only six organizations that can make proposals by nominating representatives in the candidacy commissions, and no freedom of proposal, we are actually dealing with a new type of totalitarianism. In essence, the aforementioned six organizations make up a kind of cartel which imposes its power over the society.

It is quite clear from a formal point of view that the system is not equitable. A certain number of citizens do not belong to any of these six mass organizations, and therefore, they have no representation in the process of proposal. On the other hand, some citizens are members of several organizations, and in theory, are "over-represented". Furthermore, a large percentage of the Federation of Secondary School Students members have not even come of age to vote.

Yet, is there some grain of truth that these mass organizations could have nothing to do with the single party or could even be considered independent? If any part of this was true, then these organizations would be breaking Article 5 of the current Constitution. In that provision, the Cuban Communist Party is clearly defined as the supreme authority of society which exists to coordinate and channel the efforts of the common people towards the higher goals of building socialism and realizing a communist society. Furthermore, Article 7 outlines the role of mass organization by saying that they bring together different social groups, in order to stand for their specific interests and involve them in construction, consolidation and defence of the socialist society.

Considering these legal circumstances, could some spokesman of the regime explain how these organizations devoted to the construction of socialist society could possibly be independent of the party which coordinates and channels the common efforts into building socialism? Or is this provision of the Constitution actually being broken?

I have already mentioned how complex the nomination process is for deputies of the national Assembly of People's Power under the 1992 Elections act. I hopefully have made it clear that the legislative methods being used are highly dubious. In fact, there are several rules which mix up provisions intended for the election of deputies and of those that regard the election of delegates to provincial assemblies. However, we should look at what is and isn't clear.

The National Candidacy Commission is responsible for preparing the proposals (Art. 87 EA) for the candidates and sending them to the National Electoral Commission. The National Electoral Commission is required to verify whether the pre-election candidates proposed meet all legal requirements. Once this is completed, the National Candidacy Commission is in charge of sending these certified proposals to particular Municipal Candidacy Commissions who in turn present them to Municipal Assemblies of People's Power (Art. 88).

The fact that the number of citizens included into each pre-election candidacy has to be at least double to the number of deputies which are to be elected (Art. 89) is relatively straightforward. Candidates are nominated by Municipal Assemblies of People's Power and their number has to be equal to the number of deputies that the municipality in question shall elect (Art. 92). However, the Elections Act does not strictly define which body is responsible for considering the citizens proposed by the National Candidacy Commission (the number of these citizens is no less than double to the total number of posts) and for choosing those who should actually stand as candidates. By systematically analysing the Elections Act we could conclude that this power might belong to the Municipal Candidacy Commission. This conclusion is based on the fact that the Municipal Assembly, a body elected by the people, is wholly subordinate to the Candidacy Commission. We can, for instance, find the following provisions:

· In case the Municipal Assembly agrees to exclude one of the candidates proposed by the Candidacy Commission, the President of the Candidacy Commission puts forward a new proposal (Art. 96, sections 3 and 6).
· If some of the proposed citizens does not obtain the majority of votes (in a voting by raising hands), the Municipal Candidacy Commission will again make a new proposal (Art. 96, sections 5 and 6). 1

What is the purpose of these complex constraints? In my opinion and without any doubts, the purpose of the current system is as follows: for anyone to be proposed as a deputy to the National Assembly, the citizen has to be approved by three separate organs of the state - the National Candidacy Commission, the Municipal Candidacy Commission and the Municipal Assembly of People's Power. It is extremely difficult, if not absolutely impossible, for any "improper" person to be nominated with this process is place. Not only is it impossible for opposition or independent candidates to run for election, but even for anyone whom the establishment may find just a little unpleasant. We should also bear in mind that the make up of these bodies are different - at least in case of candidacy commissions. While municipal assemblies are the only bodies elected by people (despite the fact that in countries like Cuba, the concept of "elected by people" is somewhat limited), national and municipal candidacy commissions are appointed by the previously mentioned cartel of six mass organizations. For these two different commissions to agree to a certain candidate, this particular candidate must necessarily meet the expectations of the Party. Otherwise, we may be almost absolutely sure that this citizen would be rejected either by the candidacy commissions or by the municipal assembly.

Obviously, all these aspects would be of importance in case of some hypothetical discrepancy in the future. However, up to this moment, there has been no such situation.

Once the candidacies are agreed upon in all of the country's municipalities voting takes place. I am deliberately saying voting as opposed to electing, because there cannot be election without choice. Those candidates who have obtained more than a half of the valid votes are considered as "elected" (Art. 124 EA). And who determines which votes are valid? The Elections Act does not provide for a clear definition on this point. In case of electing deputies, the Election Act explicitly recognizes the right of electors to vote for all the candidates or for some of them (Art. 110, section 2). The law also stipulates that the ballots where it is impossible to determine the will of the voter will be nullified (Art. 114, section 1).

Bearing in mind the intensive propaganda which the regime launches before every general election in order to persuade the citizens to "vote in unity", that means to vote in favour of all the candidates, I believe it is quite bold to claim that the will of the voter cannot be determined in blank and crossed ballots or in ballots with a written comment against the system or against the candidates. Nevertheless, in practice this has so far been the most frequent interpretation. Therefore, all ballots which are blank, crossed or include any comments are not taken as ballots where voters clearly express their opposition to the regime and to its candidates, but as invalid votes that do not count. Reducing this to the absurd, let's imagine the following situation. There is a municipality where only one citizen "votes in unity", whereas others, the rest of the inhabitants, make their ballot somehow invalid. Yet all the candidates would actually succeed, since they would have obtained more than a half of the valid votes, or in other words, they would have obtained one vote out of total one…

In other words, whoever wants to express by vote his disagreement with the single candidacy, will be forced to vote for at least one of the proposed candidates, otherwise his ballot will be invalid and will be nullified. And this means that such a citizen will actually have to become an accomplice of the very same system he wishes to combat.

Although in the near future this is something highly improbable, let's imagine for a while, that with this mechanism or another, one or more deputy seats of a particular municipality or district remain vacant. What would happen? The Elections Act provides for such a possibility in the article 125. In such a case, the Council of State would have the following options:
i) to leave these seats vacant;
ii) to empower the Municipal Assembly with the election; or
iii) to call for new elections.

A second round of the elections to the National Assembly would only be held if the Council of State took the third option. This is in stark contrast with the elections of delegates to the municipal assemblies where a second, or even a third or fourth, round is held as a rule (Articles 180 and 121 EA). And needless to say that while the only issue discussed in the municipal elections is which of the two or more residents will be the elected delegate, general elections determine the make-up of the supreme body of the state.

I should stress that the second round of the elections to the National Assembly is really just one of the possible scenarios. In such a case, the Council of State would have different options, all legal ones, on how to face the situation and it could make a choice that would best suit its political interests.

From the legal point of view, it would be interesting to briefly analyse what would happen in the following situation. There is a municipality or district which shall elect for instance two deputies. In the first round of the elections, the majority of the citizens vote for only one of the candidates, and therefore, this candidate is the only one elected and the other seat remains vacant. Should the Council of State decide that the seat be filled by means of public voting, the only valid ballots in the second round would be those in favour of the new single candidate, because the other ballots would be declared invalid.

I believe that all the measures mentioned in this paper are to ensure that the National Assembly of People's Power will keep on providing unanimous support to the current leadership of the country. What about you? Do you share my opinion?

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