Although the media spends a lot of time portraying Cuba as a “dictatorship”, it has barely covered the fact that Cubans have once again begun a process of electing officials, starting from the local and going all the way up to the national parliament.
Already, 78% of the population has participated in the process of selecting candidates for local government elections scheduled for November 26. A second round is scheduled for December 5 in cases where no candidate reaches 50%.
More than 27,000 candidates (from an initial list of 60,800 nominees) will contest for more than 12,000 seats spread out across 168 municipal assemblies. Sixty-five per cent of candidates are not sitting incumbents and 35% are women.
The second round of the process, to elect representatives to regional parliaments and the National Assembly, is scheduled for early next year. President Raul Castro has already announced he will step down as the head of state following the election of the next National Assembly.
Below, Sean J Clancy takes a look at Cuba’s electoral system, busting some of the myths that are constantly repeated by media pundits and critics.
1. Cuba’s elections are organised and conducted in two stages on a “No Party”, as opposed to (and as often suggested) a “One Party” basis.
The Cuban Communist Party (PCC) is not a political party in the sense that this term is generally understood. No PCC (or any other party) candidates stand for election.
This system avoids many inequities and imbalances inherent in its party-political based counterparts and ensures a fairer and more – rather than less – democratic electoral process.
Local government candidates are selected during the first stage of the electoral process, on personal merit, by their neighbours and peers in an open and transparent community-based process. They are elected by secret ballot on polling day.
2. Candidates can neither – nor do they need to – raise nor spend any funds or offer any favours on election campaigns. All candidates – regardless of their political, social or economic status – are granted equal access to all voters and media.
3. Information about each candidate and their attributes, experience, qualifications, suitability and ability are posted with a corresponding passport photograph in a uniform CV-style presentation in public buildings and spaces, to which all voters have access.
4. People are encouraged to participate in the democratic process, which is very well organised, supervised and secure.
Voting is not obligatory, but more than 90% of the electorate have traditionally participated voluntarily in the polls.
In a country where migration is an integral part of the societal fabric, the actual turnout is often even higher than recorded, because of the presence on the register of people not in the country on voting day.
5. Voters can vote for one, any or all of the candidates on the ballot sheet. Each candidate needs to secure more than 51% of the popular vote to be elected, even when it is a “first past the post” election.
If no candidate in a designated area reaches the quota, a second round is held.
6. Participation in politics in Cuba is essentially a part-time (but nonetheless time-consuming), unpaid and voluntary act of public service, rather than a materially motivated career choice. It involves self-sacrifice and effort.
Parliamentarians seconded from their jobs onto one of the full-time commissions that undertake the legislative administration of the state receive the same salary they were paid prior to their secondment and return to their posts once the relevant commission’s work has been concluded.
7. Cuba’s electoral and democratic model is “participatory” rather than “representative”.
Prior to the passing of any significant new laws, legislators often consider thousands of proposals, suggestions and concerns, raised by millions of citizens at hundreds of nationwide grassroots meetings and internal mass organisation consultations.
Informed popular opinion does not determine political decision-making, but it is given a degree of due consideration absent in most other supposedly “superior” systems
8. Candidates for election during the second stage of the electoral process to the provincial and single chamber National Assembly are carefully selected by qualified members of Cuba's representative mass organisations, including (but not only) the Cuban Congress of Trade Unions, the Federation of Cuban Women, the National Association of Small Farmers and the unions covering university and school students.
Up to 50% of the candidates, who will form the foundation of the higher assemblies, will come from those that have already been elected to local governments. They will stand again in their home constituencies.
The remaining candidates are nominated and selected on merit and can stand in the constituency that would most benefit from their particular skill sets, experience and political proposals and where they are deemed to be most needed.
9. All deputies give an account of their endeavours on behalf of their constituents and relay information about local and national political developments and at neighbourhood-based assemblies.
Constituents freely (and often vociferously) express their views at these assemblies about everything from rubbish collection and street lighting to national taxation policy, the scourge of bureaucracy and world affairs.
10. Cuba's unique and sovereign electoral model ensures that no elected deputy or appointed official is in a position to offer political or administrative favours in return for monetary or material reward.
The Cuban model is probably more corruption-free than any global counterpart, although – like every other – not without its imperfections and critics.
It is a democratic and electoral process from which a lot can be learned and within which there is a lot to be lauded.