Cuba will hold parliamentary elections under the shadow of abstention

Cuba will hold parliamentary elections

Cuba will hold elections next Sunday to renew its highest legislative body, the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP), a process as vindicated by the Government as it is criticized by dissidents and over which the shadow of abstention hangs.

These elections, in which more than 8 million Cubans are called to participate, represent a key step in the institutional renewal of the country that began with the local elections last November.

The process will culminate when the ANPP, in one of its first decisions, appoints the country’s new president, a position expected to be held for a second term by Miguel Díaz-Canel, leader of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), the only legal party on the island.

The elections, however, raise doubts among international analysts and criticism among activists and opponents; while the PCC, State institutions and the official media defend them as “genuine”.

The debate starts due to the very relevance of the Legislature, dominated by members of the PCC and its youth (more than 96.5% in the current chamber) and which in most cases unanimously approves the legislative initiatives that the Government transfers to it.


The most controversial element is the candidacies: 470 people -for 470 positions-, almost all of them from the PCC or similar organizations.

The standard-bearers are proposed by the so-called mass organizations – parastatal collectives in the orbit of the party – and approved by the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power, made up mostly of communist militants.

This leads experts, opponents and jurists to doubt that the process can be called an election. There are those who equate it with a referendum – or even a plebiscite – in which the Government presents citizens with a closed proposal.

In an interview with EFE, Cuban jurist and political scientist Raudiel Peña describes them as “plebiscitary elections” because they have the same number of candidates as positions, there is no competition, they have a single party and they depend on a controlled selection system.

For his part, Leonardo Martínez, a Cuban judge on leave for currently holding political office at the municipal level in Havana, advocated in an interview with EFE for transcending the “limited understanding” of the term democracy as practiced in liberal systems.

He qualified that neither the PCC nor its youth prepare or approve the list of candidates and argued that the single party is a “transversal scaffolding of Cuban society” with the “role of embodying the socialist project” provided for in the 2019 Constitution.

With respect to having the same number of applicants as positions, he assured that “the candidate competes against himself” and that “he has to earn the legitimacy of the people”, in relation to the legal requirement of achieving 50% of the valid votes.

On the ballots you can mark the “x” in the boxes of all the candidates of the constituency (the official bet), only in some names or in none. The law provides several formulas if one does not reach the minimum of 50%.

Another element that raises doubts is that the electoral campaign is prohibited by law, despite the fact that the candidates have toured their constituencies since February, including Díaz-Canel, who has attended multiple events in his district of Villa Clara (west).

In addition, the official slogans #YoVotoXTodos and #MejorEsPosible appear in institutional accounts of ministries such as Justice, Foreign Affairs and Economy, as well as in the profiles of the Attorney General’s Office, public television and the Revolutionary Armed Forces.


In this context, participation will be key. After abstention figures below 10% between 1976 and 2013, the rate rose to 14% in parliamentary elections in 2018. In the referendum on the Family Code (last September) it was close to 26% and in municipal elections (November ) rose to 31 %.

Different platforms of activists and opponents have called through social networks not to vote, as a sign of rejection of the electoral process in particular and the political system on the island in general.

For the opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa “it would be a success” for the dissidence “if the abstention rate exceeded 40%.”

As he explained to EFE, it would be a torpedo on the “legitimacy waterline” of the system because he considers that to a large extent, it is about “ideological abstention”, an active political option.

In his opinion, a high abstention rate would accelerate the “pressure from sectors of the Government without much power” that are “aware of the need to make reforms”, mainly economic ones, in addition to weakening the “punitive capacity of the State” and giving many discontents a “feeling of social strength”.

Peña, who recalls that abstention has risen since 2008, points out that a low turnout would have implications in terms of the “legitimacy” of the system and its “capacity for mobilization.”

“Abstention must be read in Cuba in a different way than in other places, because here there are no alternatives or competition,” he explains.
In his opinion, an abstention like that of the last municipal ones would be a “favorable” result for the Government. In addition, he considers it interesting to analyze the evolution of the null and blank vote.

For his part, Martínez acknowledges that the choice is “between voting or not” and points out that “in any system, with little participation, there are problems of legitimacy.”