What “people” are you talking about?

Cuban electoral authorities do not rule out that the announced amendments to the Electoral Act will include the direct election of public officials, from the Municipal Assembly to the Presidency of the Councils of State and Ministers. Officials of the National Electoral Commission (CEN by its Spanish acronym), in an “on-line encounter” with the readers of Juventud Rebelde newspaper, answered the questions of those who, despite the limited connectivity of the island, participated in this type of exchange very in the way of international press.

The above approach, although it could be inferred from what was published in Juventud Rebelde, is misleading. Officials evaded answering. Beyond the vagueness of answers -adjusted to what is already known- it is obvious the interest of readers to know to what extent the Cuban Electoral Law will vary and how far will the citizen participation process go. Perhaps the most positive, given the constant accusation to the Cuban press by hiding controversial aspects and uncomfortable realities, was that a Cuban “governmental” newspaper reflected diverse questions and elusive responses.

The title under which Diario de Cuba identified its analysis: “Readers of Juventud Rebelde ask for direct election of the main positions in the country” is closer to what was published. At least five readers, identified as GCR, Braulio, Carlos Gutierrez, Joss and Demos, from a total of 22 who could ask their questions, considered the issue of direct election to all instances and fundamentally of top positions representing the State a priority. Drawing on participants, 22% of them want to elect the President of the Council of State and Ministers. It is not a negligible figure, even if a forum has no sample value.

Among the agreements of the 10th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party, a “new Electoral Law” was announced; however, CEN members only spoke of “modification”. Beyond semantics, that always concern, so far, and as it is clear from the words spoken by President Raul Castro at the closing ceremony of the constitutive session of the current legislature, on February 24, 2013, when he said: “The amendments we propose to include in the Constitution include to limit to a maximum of two consecutive five-year term the performance of the main offices of state and government and establish maximum ages to take up those responsibilities “; we can only say with some certainty that the new law will include these regulations. It has not been clarified whether this limitation is valid only for senior positions or if will reach all levels of popular representation.

The truth is that the election of district delegates is the most participatory and legitimate part of the whole electoral process. It is attended by citizens nominated by direct public vote. They are not partisan nominations, do not obey to campaigns, have no mediation, theoretically, than the popular recognition of merit and legitimacy, therefore, they emanate directly from the people.

The notion of “people”, understood as the set of citizens of the Republic, could mean something else for CEN. In one of the answers in this meeting the Commission officials argued that the Cuban electoral system is ideal due to:

– The Direct participation of the people to nominate and be nominated and occupy the seats on the organs of People’s Power of our country.

-The nomination of candidates for delegates to the People’s Power is made by people.

-The Electoral authorities organizing, directing and validating the electoral process are part of the people and do not represent any party. “

If the suitability of the Cuban electoral system, according to its creators, is given by which candidates are nominated by the “people”, and the fact that the authorities who run it are “part of the people,” then the reform would not be necessary.

The National Electoral Commission is appointed by the Council of State, not by nomination or popular vote. Similarly, this National Commission designates the Commission of the special municipality Isla de la Juventud, special and provincial committees, which in turn appoint the members of municipal committees in their territories and these likewise designate the members of election commissions in their respective jurisdictions, which is a very upright process that, on behalf of the people, subtracts its will.

The State Council itself is elected by the Deputies to the National Assembly, who were neither directly proposed by the bases, but by an Candidature Committee elected, according to Article 68 of the Electoral Act, at the request of those Electoral Commissions that were either chosen by the people:

Article 68: The Candidature Committees are made up by representatives of the Cuban Workers Federation, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Women, the National Association of Small Farmers, the Federation of University Students and the Federation of High School Students, appointed by the respective national, provincial and municipal directions, at the request of the national, provincial and municipal Electoral Commissions. In case of any of these mass organizations to lack representation in a municipality, a representative for the corresponding provincial leadership is appointed. “

The thesis that these commissions, when elected by the “people’s representatives” are entitled to act on their behalf is a weak interpretation in any representative system. The used definition of “people” is very malleable and poor and contracts the citizen role in the electoral process, it should be recalled that the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba in its Article 42 states: “All citizens have equal rights and are subject to equal duties.”

The candidature commissions are questionable because subtract the citizens from their right to stand for election, or what is the same, their ability to stand as a candidate in elections at any level, in addition to weaken the effectiveness of elected representatives, who many times have not roots in the municipalities or regions where they are ultimately elected. Until now -and with the risk of being redundant- in the Cuban electoral system the “people” only nominate directly in the constituency level. Mass organizations recognized by the Constitution and supervised by the Communist Party are which monopolize the nominative will of the voters.

Perhaps this is one of the most uncomfortable and inexplicable things in all Cuban electoral process; that replacement that is made of people and the ease with which different types of commissions justify their decisions on their behalf. None of these committees is elected directly by the people, so, strictly speaking, are not entitled to speak on their behalf.

The Cuban electoral system in its current Act 72 has a base legitimating, and it is in these moments at its first election step -the only with direct citizen participation in the nomination of candidates-which apparently will not be modified. It is welcomed that this stage to be kept as it is and, in our opinion, should be extended to all levels of representation, including the State Council and its President. Adding the passive suffrage would allow freedom of citizen candidacy and participation in electoral processes of civil society and a patriotic opposition.

Delegates and deputies shall be nominated and elected by those they represent, on the basis of full dedication to public service and recognition in the base, leaving aside meritocracy or symbolic visibilities. There should not be room in the ultimate representation of the popular will for those who, even carrying indisputable merits in the arts and other fields, do not do it by a public service vocation. Delegates and deputies must respond to their constituents regularly and should be obliged to receive them. It would be desirable them to tell their electorate how they work on their behalf. In this sense the possibility to choose between candidates with different projects would boost the legislative exercise and management of commitment to their electoral base. Similarly, and even though it exceeds the theme of the Electoral Act, their activity must be public and transparent, and their management should be revocable by those who have elected them if necessary or malfunction.

When asked if there are revocation formulas of the highest authority of the State, CEN responds; “We welcome your participation, but regret we can not respond to your request, as it is not our responsibility”. True, but it’s just popular competition at the municipal level, and only if at least 25 percent of those elected from the constituency request it, according to Article 7 of the current Act 89 of the Revocation of the Mandate of the Chosen to the People’s power Organs. In the Provincial and National levels, the voter can not start the recall process. It would be desirable the people to have the ability to question, demand and where appropriate, remove those elected representatives who do not meet their needs.

Another important aspect is the need to join the election process to Cuban citizens residing abroad. Unfortunately, Cubans who have taken up residence outside the island have been relegated to a kind of status of “second class citizens” with the exclusion or limitation of many rights and application of special provisions.

Paraphrasing Martí quoted by the National Electoral Commission: “Our republics the world must take graphs, but the trunk must be that of our republics”. This suggest that we should take as an example, always tempered with the realities of Cuba, many electoral systems in the world in which citizens residing abroad are summoned by their respective embassies and consulates to actively participate in the vote. The Constitution of Ecuador, adopted in a process of socialist revolution, has even gone further when including at its legislative six representatives of migrant citizens. Cuba , in a step to get closer to its diaspora, should add them to vote and should bring the deputies closer to their fellow citizens abroad.

The new electoral law could eliminate inconsistencies that hinder the representativeness in the Cuban state. A separation between Parliament and its legislative activity and government bodies would streamline the electoral process and would provide the State Administration of true independence in the management of public goods. The municipal and provincial assemblies are similarly questionable; if legislation is not achieved at these levels, what sense does the whole process have? Maybe when that note speaks about the experiences in the new provinces with the organs of local administration, the new law could contemplate replacing municipal and provincial assemblies by Boards of Directors, avoiding duplication in government management.

Culture and political development of the Cuban people demand today renewed formulas of popular participation. One participant described the current Act as “extremely unpopular” and several others the questioned the whys of its suitability. Working in a fair and plural representative model is a priority for the nation. Cuba has a responsible and participatory human capital capable of detecting areas of social conflict and working on solutions. An Act to ensure direct participation at all levels would be in the historical continuity of its social project.

From this encounter, in the absence of responses, the most interesting are undoubtedly the questions.

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