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Cuban Elections: Part One - Candidate Nominations

Cuban Elections: Part One - Candidate Nominations

by Julie Webb-Pullman


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I have taken up the invitation of Ricardo Alarcon, President of the Cuban National Assembly, to observe the Cuban electoral process, beginning with going to a couple of nomination meetings, then interviewing the successful candidates, or potential ‘delegados’.

Signs advising the public of the nomination meetings, or more accurately, requesting people to ¨assist¨ in the elctoral process, were popping up like mushrooms all over Havana (see pics). I decided to attend two in areas that I have lived for a period of time.


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Vedado

My first “nomination meeting” was in Vedado, in pre-revolution times an inner-city, middle-class suburb near the university, but now a mixture of everyone – owners of many of the large homes left for the United States after the revolution, and their houses were divided into smaller apartments and allocated on the basis of need.

This particular electoral zone covers two blocks, one of mostly free-standing houses with gardens, the other with several apartment buildings. There were some 200 eligible voters, and they expected a big turnout, so the meeting was held in a local theatre to fit everyone in.

I arrived a little early, and there were already a few people chatting outside. Representatives from the Electoral Commission were there, and as people arrived many presented their ‘papelito’, a piece of paper informing them of their right to assist in the nomination of a delegate, and advising of the date, time, and place etc. The meeting was supposed to start at 8pm, and at 7.50 I was getting a little worried, as although there were about 200 eligible voters it seemed only about 30 had turned up.

I went inside and sat down to wait, looking around the theatre and doing a quick seat-count – I counted at least 150 seats, but couldn´t see them all. 8pm arrived and there were still only about 50 people, chatting amongst themselves and calling greetings to friends. Hmmm, I thought, maybe there is a good programme on TV that is keeping the rest away. As more arrived I looked around and was particularly impressed by the number of people in their 80’s and 90’s, whether with walking sticks, being helped by friends or family members, or taking it slowly under their own steam. I can’t think of any community event in New Zealand or Australia where I have seen the active participation of so many older citizens, other than events specifically for the elderly.

At about 8:10 there was a surge of new arrivals, including a sizeable contingent of young people, no doubt due to the voting age of 16. By now I was beginning to understand what Cubans mean when they talk about inclusiveness – it seems it’s not just at concerts, in the universities or at the beach that you find people from 9 to over 90, but at every Cuban event, whether social, cultural, or political. Cuban participatory democracy seems to be just that – everyone who wants to, participates - and by the time the meeting began around 8:20 I could count only 9 empty seats, and more people were standing at the back or sitting on the steps.

First up was a message of congratulations to all women, as it was 8th March, the International Day of Women. This was followed by the singing of the Cuban National Anthem, and a speech by a young woman about the importance of participating in the nomination of candidates as well as the elections, and about the changes facing the country.

Next up was another woman, the President of the Electoral Council of the zone, who spoke about the need for active and direct participation of all from all levels of education and backgrounds, and all genders. She explained what the nomination process was to be and how it would proceed, commencing with calling for nominations, followed by discussion of nominees’ merits, and finally a show of hands for each nominee.

She asked that proposers give reasons for why they propose people, and called for frank and open opinions to be aired about each nominee, making it clear that everyone had the right to speak.

Two people made nominations, giving their reasons for proposing their preferred candidate, one a man (the current incumbent) and one a woman. The floor was then thrown open to discussion of these two nominees. People commented on factors such as their professional and community experience, their availability to their neighbours, their willingness to listen, their readiness to provide responses even if they were not what the person wanted to hear, their ability to clearly explain reasons especially for negative responses, and a variety of other merits.

I expected that the candidates would then get up and make a little speech about what they thought they had to offer the constituency, what they intended to do, etc as we are accustomed to having our candidates do, but no! Cubans put their faith in what they themselves, and their neighbours, have to say about the potential candidate based on their personal experience of living alongside them, rather than on what candidates might say about themselves.

Instead of falling victim to pre-election lies by candidates who promise one thing then once elected, do another, Cubans prefer to have only themselves to blame if the candidate doesn’t deliver – as well as the power to immediately and unceremoniously dump them, as their electoral system provides for!

Once everyone who wanted to had spoken, the show of hands was held, with a pretty clear-cut result. Even so, there were several ‘counters’ who individually counted the hands then compared totals, and if there was any discrepancy, they counted again. Of course, all the voters could also count the hands, and challenge the tally.

The end result was a victory for the incumbent, who obtained over 60% of the votes. Congratulations were extended, and within minutes the theatre was empty – judging from overheard conversations, a very popular telenovela was about to start, and many were racing home to watch it, or eat, or both!

Alamar

A couple of days later I went to another nomination meeting in Alamar, a satellite suburb some 10 km from Vedado. This is a very high-density apartment block zone, so the meeting was for the residents of 3 apartment blocks, rather than entire street blocks. It was held outside the entrance to one of the buildings, and people gathered in the entrance, on the path to, and on the sidewalk in front of, the building. A similar procedure unfolded, with the singing of the national anthem, an explanation of the process by the electoral council representative, nomination, and voting. The difference here was that there were only about 50 people present, no additional speeches, there was only one nomination (the incumbent), and this nominee was elected unopposed.

I asked a resident why there was only one nominee, and they said that if that person was doing a good job, why change them? Another said that people in these buildings aren’t that interested in going to meetings, but they will still vote on election day.

Talking to people from other electoral areas, and taking into account the official results, there seems to have been less variation nationally in the level of interest and desire to participate than I struck between these two meetings – unsurprising given that there were 50,907 of them by 24 March!! Over all there were 34,766 nominations for the15,000 delegate positions, to be decided in the elections of 25 April.

The nomination process closed on 24 March, and the compilation of the candidates’ biographies and voters’ lists was completed on 31 March. Candidates’ bios are now popping up like mushrooms all over the country, this being the sole campaign activity.


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The candidates bios consist of a one-page CV with a small ID photo, containing their name, age, marital status, education level, membership of organisations, work history (paid and voluntary), participation in conferences, congresses, brigades, forums, national and international events and activities, and any awards or prizes they have gained. (see pic)

That’s it! No radio, TV or newspaper ads, no campaign meetings, no billboards, no cars driving around with loudspeakers promoting one or other candidate, no public events, no baby-kissing photo-ops, just their bio on the wall with the other candidate/s (at least two, sometimes more), and the list of eligible voters.

In Part Two I interview the successful candidate in Vedado.

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Julie Webb-Pullman (click to view previous articles) is a New Zealand based freelance writer who has reported about - and on occasion from - Central America for Scoop since 2003. Send Feedback tojulie@scoop.co.nz

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