Cuban Elections, April 2015

ballot-paper19 April is election day in Cuba. The election is an ‘eleccion parcial’ – an election of delegates to the local assemblies (Municipal Assemblies of Popular Power).

The electoral process starts several weeks before, when local meetings are held to seek nominations for each constituency, which covers an area of roughly 10 blocks. There must be at least two candidates in each, and the winning candidate must have over 50% of the votes, or else a run-off election is run a month later. In this election there are 27379 candidates standing in 12589 constituencies across Cuba, and about 8 million people eligible to vote.

PionerosIt is considered a civic duty of every Cuban citizen aged 16 or over to vote, and turnout is high – around 95%. While each ballot is secret, the list of who has (and has not) cast their ballot is not, and it is normal for people who have not voted by the afternoon to get a knock on their door reminding them to turn out.

The integrity of each ballot box is ensured by the Pioneers – a youth organisation something like the Communist version of the Boy Scouts – on the basis that children should be incorruptible. Each ballot box is confirmed as empty before being sealed in the presence of at least two Pioneers. They then stand guard over the ballot box, giving a smart salute to each voter as he deposits his ballot paper. At least that’s the theory – when the cameras aren’t looking, it’s more likely to find a bored-looking child playing in a corner of the room.

campaign-materialElections at this level are a surprisingly non-political affair. Each candidate may or may not be a member of a political party, but both candidates and parties are banned from campaigning. Each candidate posts a single A4 sheet giving their educational and professional background but no statement of political policies or aims is given. The reasoning behind this is that it avoids the corruption perceived in big-money electioneering in other countries.

These local assemblies have responsibility for areas such as rubbish collection and repairing holes in roads. It is hard to please people in these rather unglamorous areas of public administration, especially given the very limited resources available.

Critics of the Cuban government say that the candidate selection process makes any electoral dissent all but impossible. However, in this election for the first time ever, there are candidates standing who are publicly active in the Cuban opposition.