14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 August 2018 — In view of the deadlines imposed by the draft Constitution in its First Transitional Provision, and knowing that the referendum will take place on February 24, it can be calculated that by September 2019,the Cuban parliament will have approved a new electoral law.
If Raul Castro had fulfilled his promise of February 2015 to modify the electoral rules, the constitutional project now being debated would be adapting to what had already been enacted and not the other way around. The new law will be born chained to what is imposed by the reformed Constitution, in which the threads that bind can already be clearly seen.
The fantasy of new electoral legislation establishing a direct vote of citizens to elect their president was finally annihilated in the first paragraph of Article 104 that establishes that the National Assembly of People’s Power, in the exercise of its powers, “elects the President and Vice President of the Republic.” Later, in Article 121 it states that the President of the Republic “is elected by the National Assembly of People’s Power from among its deputies […] for a period of five years.”
For its part, Title IX, referring to the Electoral System, introduces a new element that denies voting rights to “those who do not comply with the requirements of permanence in the country provided for in the law.”
This detail, absent in the current Constitution, was specified in Law 72 of 1992, which in Article 6 says that “to exercise the right to vote requires the obligation to be a permanent resident in the country for a period of not less than two years before the elections” while, in order to be elected, Article 8 requires a candidate to be a “permanent resident in the country for a period not less than five years before the elections.”
The constitutional reform anticipates that the next electoral law will continue denying Cubans living abroad not only the possibility of being elected but also the right to vote.
In the particular case of the highest positions, from President of the Republic to provincial governor, articles 122, 124, 138 and 171 now include the requirement of not having any other citizenship to fill these positions. As a result, the tens of thousands of Cubans who have taken refuge in Spanish nationality*, plus the other thousands who hold any other nationality, will be excluded from the main rudders of the country.
Lawmakers will have to take into account a new constitutional provision included in article 182 of the draft, which modifies the elections of district delegates: they will no longer be held every two and a half years as established in article 111 of the current Constitution, but rather every five years.
One question that remains unanswered is whether the Candidacy Commissions** will be maintained in the next electoral law. The project under discussion does not allude to the subject, but neither is it in the current Constitution.
The elimination of the Candidacy Commissions is one of the main demands of independent civil society and the political opposition because it would open the possibility that voters are not simply approving a list that includes only one candidate for each seat in the Parliament; instead, voters would be able to choose between diverse candidates according to their personal political views.
After a comparative observation between the language used by the 1976 Constitution (with its successive reforms of 1978, 1992 and 2002) and that used in this project, there are indications that suggest what the 2019 electoral law might look like. The text under discussion no longer includes the term “merit” which, together with “capacities,” pre-conditioned the access of citizens “to all positions and jobs of the State.”
Current legislation is anchored in the idea of a ‘meritocracy’, and prohibits candidates from campaigning at all. Voters are allowed “only to take into account, in determining which candidate to vote for,” the candidate’s “personal conditions, prestige, and capacity to serve the people.” In practice, the candidacy commissions (not the candidate) prepare a single-page biography for each candidate which is posted in a window and is the only legal form of “campaigning.”
Clearly, no one should have any illusions. It is enough to read articles 3 and 5 of the constitutional draft to affirm that the new electoral law of 2019 will not assume a multi-party system nor will it allow political campaigns to compete for the vote. Cubans living abroad, opposed to the system in their majority, will not have a presence in the polls. The reins are already firmly in place.
*Spain’s “Historical Memory Law” allows the children and grandchildren of Spanish citizens born outside the country to apply for citizenship.
**Cuba’s Candidacy Commissions are made up of individuals from mass organizations created by the government/communist party. From wikipedia: “Candidates for provincial assemblies and the National Assembly are nominated by the municipal assemblies from lists compiled by national, provincial and municipal candidacy commissions. Suggestions for nominations are made at all levels mainly by mass organizations, trade unions, people’s councils, and student federations. The final list of candidates for the National Assembly, one for each district, is drawn up by the National Candidacy Commission.”
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