October 19, 1997

Issue 6 - Cuban Elections; Municipal, Provincial & National

I am out at the polling station 1/2 block from the house where I live, with Nery Azcuy. Husband Antonio is a late riser & will cast his ballot ~noon time. It is 6:45 AM. The election committee has just brought the empty ballot box (an ordinary card board carton) out for the 15 or so waiting voters inspection. A government seal is placed on it, a slot is cut for the ballots to be dropped in, then it is placed between the two school children security guards, in their school uniform, ready for the first ballot.

At precisely 7:00 AM everyone stands at attention in the doorway of the polling station and sing along as the national anthem is played on the radio. The poll is open. Respecting the order of the cue, the first person to arrive at the poll steps forward to cast his ballot. For his patriotic zeal he is given a cigar. At the end of the line is Nery: she presents her enumeration slip, is checked off the voters list and is given a ballot. Nery steps into the voting booth, marks her ballot then steps out, folds it, walks over to the ballot box and deposits it. As she drops in the ballot the two school children salute her.

The ballot is an ordinary Xeroxed slip of paper containing the names of all three candidates with a box beside each name for an "X". What makes the ballot official is a hand stamped government seal on the back of each ballot. Only enough ballots are issued to each polling station for the number of voters registered to vote at that station. In this poll there were 275 voters registered.

The polls are open until 6:00 PM but in reality everyone has voted by noon. To delay any longer is to invite a patriotic election volunteer to come calling to ask if you have a broken leg or something preventing you from coming out to vote. That is right, almost 100% turnout for a municipal election (97% average across the nation).

At precisely 6:00 PM the poll closes. People start appearing at the polling station to witness the count including yours truly. The count is open to the general public. The election volunteers show the witnesses the intact ballot box seal then open the box and dump the ballots on the table. After the count, witnesses names are recorded for the records, including my name, then the results are read out.

Luis poles just over 200 votes to win his pole but places 3rd in the 3 way race, behind Jose Meneses and his daughter Aida Meneses, when the other 2 poles are in. Under Cuban law a candidate must pole 50% plus 1 of the vote to be declared elected. In fact, father and daughter had to face off in a runoff election held Sunday, Oct. 26, l997, to decide the winner. I was in Canada & do not know the result. Sorry.

Remember this is a race over a job at zero pay but with a nice title: Delegate to the Municipal assembly of Peoples Power. The delegate must represent his/her neighbours before their municipal assembly and public service. A delegates duties would include making themselves available 2 or 3 nights a week to any residents with concerns and holding circumscription meetings a minimum of every 6 months, to discuss concerns of their neighbours. The delegate will then approach the proper municipal government people or public service people for a satisfactory resolution of the problem. If unresolvable, an explanation. Next circumscription meeting he/she must report back.

The Cuban people do not vote for mayor or assembly chairperson; rather that is done by the elected delegates, similar to our Regional Government. The same is true for important posts in the Provincial & National Assemblies, the people elect the delegates & the delegates elect the government leaders from among their ranks. Municipal delegates serve a 2.5 year term, Provincial & National Delegates a 5 year term. This was also the year when Provincial & National elections occurred. As always the Municipal elections must be the first step leading up to the Provincial & National elections since 50 % of those upper assemblies must be elected from the ranks of the newly elected Municipal Delegates. To the casual observer that would seem to make downloading of costs & services in the Canadian tradition impractical when you the same elected people have to deal with them again at the next level of government.

The first job of the Municipal Assemblies was to select candidates to stand for election to the Provincial & National Assemblies of Peoples Power which took place Jan. 11, 1998. As this process is going on Trade Unions, the Women’s Federation, Student Unions, Farmers Organisations, etc. are selecting candidates to make up the other 50% of the Provincial & National Assemblies. The Communist Party can not nominate candidates, only mass people organisations can, & does not take part in the election. Though because Trade Unionists, etc. may also be Party members, I would estimate at least half of the nominated candidates were Party members. This can be clearly seen from the posted candidates biographies.

Once the election commissions have vetted the proposed candidates, biographies are posted for the voters information. Even Fidel Castro’s biography must be posted so he may be elected to the National Assembly by secret ballot as an ordinary Delegate every 5 years. Once elected internal elections pluck him right back in his old chair as regular as clock work. Fidel runs in the town of El Cobra in eastern Cuba. Ricardo Alacon, President of the National Assembly, runs in my Havana neighbourhood for Delegate. This round of elections are run by the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC) Central Trade Union Organisation, similar to the CLC in Canada.

I was unable to be in Cuba for the Jan. 11/98 elections but preliminary results in Granma International newspaper states 98.35 % of eligible voters voted, 95% of ballots were valid, 601 National Assembly delegates were elected & 1192 Provincial delegates to 14 provincial Assemblies. Again these delegates serve at zero pay & maintain their regular job unless they are elected to a full time position within the assembly. Typically the National Assembly will be made up of from 50 to 70% newly elected delegates Monday morning, Jan. 12/98.

The actual mechanical process of enumerating, nominating & voting is not much different than our own Canadian system. Where the Cuban system differs is the lengths they go to ensure more balanced society representation: The fact 50% of delegates represent communities & the other 50% represent interests in the nation as a whole; That wealth is excluded as a factor in a successful candidacy through lack of campaigning & lack of party politics; Candidates are nominated by the grass roots of the people they will represent; Elections are on a fixed schedule so those in power can not capitalise on a convenient opportunity; All elected officials are subject to recall by the electorate at any time during their term of office.

It may not be a system that could be adopted to Canada but it does have the unquestionable support the Cuban electorate by virtue of their 98% voter turnout & only 3% spoiled or blank ballots. We should do so well.