The process began on June 15, 2017, with the designation of the National Electoral Commission by the Council of State. On June 15, members of the provincial and municipal electoral commissions also were designated. The national, provincial, and municipal electoral commissions are responsible for supervising and conducting the elections, including the recruitment and training of some 200,000 volunteers.
From September 4 to October 30, neighborhood nomination assemblies were held, several in each voting district. In these local assemblies, the people put forth the names of persons and describe their qualities as citizens; a show of hands assesses the level of support for each person named. In accordance with the popular will expressed in the nomination assemblies, two or three candidates from each voting district were included on the ballot as candidates for deputy in the municipal assembly. One page biographies and photos of the candidates were displayed in public places from November 1 to November 26. A secret vote, in which the voter selects one of the two or three candidates, was held on November 26, with a voter turnout of 85%. Run-off elections, for voting districts in which no candidate received a majority, were held on December 3. The elected delegates from 12,515 voting districts formed 169 municipal assemblies throughout the nation, which were constituted on December 17. These 169 municipal assemblies, elected by the people in elections involving two or three candidates but not involving electoral campaigns or the participation of political parties, play an important role in nominating candidates for provincial and national assemblies, on the basis of proposals presented to the municipal assemblies by candidacy commissions.
The candidacy commissions are composed of representatives of mass organizations of women, workers, university students, secondary students, small farmers, and neighborhoods. (The mass organizations are independent of the government, and members elect leaders at the base, who it turn elect leaders to higher levels). The formation of the candidacy commissions began on June 16, when the National Electoral Commission solicited mass organizations to propose persons for integration into the candidacy commissions at the municipal, national, and provincial levels. The candidacy commissions were constituted from June 30 to July 4, 2017.
The candidacy commissions have responsibility for developing slates of candidates for the provincial and national assemblies. By constitutional requirement, no more than half of the candidates for the provincial and national assemblies can be delegates of the municipal assemblies. The other half are from the mass organizations and other social organizations. They often are persons who have made contributions in such fields as health, education, science, and culture, but who do not necessarily emerge from the process of neighborhood nominations, because of their life style of dedication to their professions. The candidacy commissions also try to ensure that all interests in the society have representation in the assemblies.
In early January 2018, the candidacy commissions distributed their proposed slates of candidates. On January 21, the candidacy commissions presented their proposed slates to extraordinary sessions of the 169 municipal assemblies of the country. At these sessions, the delegates of the municipal assemblies approved or rejected each of the proposed candidates that pertain to their territories.
Therefore, on January 21, the slates of candidates for the fifteen provincial assemblies and the National Assembly were completed. As can be seen, the candidates were proposed by commissions formed by mass organizations, and subsequently approved by municipal assemblies, which had been elected by the people two months earlier, on November 26 and December 3.
From January 22 to March 11, one-page biographies and photos of the candidates were displayed in public places, and they were presented on national television. During this time, the candidates visited communities and centers of work and study, joined by members of the electoral commissions and leaders of mass organizations. The candidates do not make campaign promises. They make commentaries of a general nature, and they listen to what the people may want to say. In addition, the visits and the dissemination of biographies are financed the electoral commissions, so the candidates do not need to finance campaigns. As expressed by Cuban journalist José Alejandro Rodríguez, in an editorial published on Election Day, “The Cuban electoral system is not based on the power of money and compromising campaign financing; nor does it promote political ambition and the buying of influence.”
In the March 11 elections, voters were presented ballots with a list of those candidates that pertain to their geographical area, one ballot for the provincial assembly and another for the national assembly. To be elected, a candidate must receive a majority of the valid votes cast. Some 85.65% percent of the eligible citizens voted, and all of the candidates were elected.
Of the 605 deputies to the National Assembly elected on May 11, some 53% are women; 41% are blacks or mulattos; 13% are young, between eighteen and thirty-five years of age; 86% are college graduates; and 56% are first-term deputies, and 24% have completed only one term. They represent all areas of work. One hundred thirty-three work full time in the municipal, provincial, and national assemblies of popular power, on leave of absence from their regular employment. Eighty-three are employed in some capacity in the production of goods and the distribution of services. Forty-seven work in education. Forty-six work on a full-time basis for the Communist Party at the national, provincial, or local level. Forty-five work in the state ministries or other organs of the state. Thirty-nine are writers or artists. Thirty-nine are employed on a full time basis as administrators of the mass organizations. Thirty-four work in the health sector. Twenty-eight are farmers or members of farmers’ cooperatives. Twenty-four are scientific researchers. Twenty-two are military. Twelve are tied to sport. Eleven represent social organizations, distinct from the mass organizations. Nine are student leaders. Seven work in the criminal justice system. Four represent religious institutions. Four are self-employed in the private sector.
The nearly 86% voter turnout is high by world standards, even though it is slightly less than the Cuban elections in the past, in which voter participation of 89% to 95% was attained. Some 94.42% percent of the votes were valid, and 80.44% of them were votes for all of the candidates. Some 4.32% of the ballots were blank; and 1.26% were annulled, as a result of writing on the ballot, which is not permitted by the rules. Thus, the nullified and blank ballots comprised 5.58% of the ballots cast; in the past, this figure has been higher, around 10%. The entire process was carried forward without conflict, division, controversy, or scandal, and with dignity.
The assemblies elected on March 11 will convene on March 25, in the case of the provincial assemblies; and on April 19, in the case of the National Assembly. They are elected to five-year terms. Most delegates to the provincial assemblies and deputies to the National Assembly will not serve full-time, but will continue to work in their jobs. Some, however, will be elected as officers of the assemblies, and others will be designated to work in commissions that investigate pending laws and regulations. These officers and commission delegates and deputies will take leaves of absence from their employment, receiving the same salary that they receive in their regular jobs.
The National Assembly of Popular Power has the duty of electing the thirty-one members of the Council of State. This includes electing the President of the Council of State and Ministers, a position currently held by Raúl Castro. There are not term limits, but at age 88, Raúl has stated publicly that the completion of his current term of office constitutes the fulfillment of his final duty.
The Cuban system of popular democracy is an alternative to the system of representative democracy that exists in many nations of the world. Established by the Constitution of 1976, the Cuban political system was developed consciously as a rejection of the representative democracy of the neocolonial Republic of 1902 to 1959, in which office-seeking electoral political parties were formed, campaign promises were made to the people, the interests of the national oligarchy and foreign capital were served, and corruption was rampant. The Cuban system of popular democracy and popular power enjoys a high level of legitimacy among the Cuban people, who are conscious not only of their own history, but also of the fact that, in the world as a whole, representative democracy is falling into decadence.
For further description of the Cuban political process, please see pages 130-42 of my book, The Evolution and Significance of the Cuban Revolution: The Light in the Darkness (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).