Ten truths about Cuba’s general elections

Letter from Cuba

  1. Cuba’s elections are organised and conducted in two stages, on a no-party basis, as opposed to—as often suggested—a one-party basis.
    The Communist Party of Cuba is not a political party in the sense in which this term is generally understood. No candidates for the Communist Party (or any other party) stand for election.
    This system avoids many inequities and imbalances inherent in its party-political counterparts and ensures a fairer and more—rather than less—democratic electoral process.
    Local government candidates are selected during the first stage on personal merit by their neighbours and peers in an open and transparent community-based process and are elected by secret ballot on polling day.
  2. Candidates can neither—nor do they need to—raise nor spend any funds, nor offer any favours, in election campaigns; and all—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, with a corresponding passport photograph and in a uniform CV-style presentation, are posted 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 per cent of the electorate have traditionally participated voluntarily in the polls.
    In a country where migration is an integral part of the social fabric, the actual turn-out 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 any one or all of the candidates on the ballot sheet. Each candidate needs to secure more than 51 per cent of the vote to be elected, even if they are “first past the post”; when no candidate in an 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, and it involves self-sacrifice and effort. Parliamentarians seconded from their jobs to one of the full-time commissions that undertake the legislative administration of the state receive the same salary they had before their secondment, and return to their post once the relevant commission’s work has been concluded.
  7. Cuba’s electoral and democratic model is “participatory” rather than “representative.” Before the passing of significant new laws, for example, legislators often consider thousands of proposals, suggestions, and concerns, raised by literally millions of citizens at hundreds of nationwide grass-roots meetings and internal consultations within mass organisation. Informed popular opinion does not determine political decision-making but it is given a degree of due consideration that is absent in most 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 two Students’ Unions, and the Farmers’ Organisation.
    Up to half these candidates, who form the foundation of the higher assemblies, will already have been elected to local government, and these 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, 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 events at neighbourhood assemblies, during which constituents freely (and often vociferously) express their views about everything from refuse 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 free of corruption than any global counterpart; and although—like every other—it is not without its imperfections and its critics, it is a democratic electoral process from which a lot can be learnt and within which there is much to be lauded.