Seventh Cuban Communist Party Conference and Electoral Reform: Continuity and Succession or Disruption / Somos+, Alberto Bruno Diaz

Somos+, Alberto Bruno Diaz, 28 July 2012 — At its Tenth Plenum, the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) agreed to hold its Seventh Congress in April 2016 and to adopt a new electoral law before the general elections of 2018, among other measures. This could mark the first intergenerational transition of power at the highest levels since the 1959 revolution. The evidence so far suggests it will be an orderly process, with the promotion of of Miguel Diaz-Canel — now the number-two man in the government —to the post of first secretary in the party, according to Agence France Press (AFP) analyst Arturo Lopez-Levy of the Center for Global Studies at the University of New York.

“The experience of recent years suggests that the top leadership in Cuba intends to hand power over to younger militant cadres within the party without constitutional amendments or concessions to opposition groups,” said Jorge Duany of Florida International University in an interview with AFP.

Analysts anticipate that the Seventh Party Congress will mark the departure of the old guard of the Politburo: the PCC’s number two man, Jose Machado Ventura, interior minister Abelardo Colome, Commander Ramiro Valdes and General Ramon Espinosa, among others.

The younger group is headed by Diaz-Canel, 54, who has been Cuba’s senior vice-president since 2013. It also includes 54-year-old Politburo member and economics minister Marino Murillo, 57-year-old foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez and 50-year-old PCC first secretary Mercedes López Acea.

The armed forces minister, 72-year-old General Leopoldo Cintra Frías, could stay on to guarantee a seemless transition.

Though there is currently no information about what will be discussed at the Seventh Party Congress, nor anything about the new electoral law, analysts do not foresee radical changes. López-Levy rejects the idea “that direct popular elections for president is on the reform agenda since it would involve a radical change to the (political) system.”

According to Cuba’s 1976 constitution, the Council of State is the body which acts on behalf of the National Assembly of People’s Power when it is not in session by executing its agreements and fulfilling other constitutional duties such as representing the Cuban state at the national and international levels. It is a collegial body in which decisions are made by simple majority vote of its members.

Some believe the fate of a Diaz-Canel presidency will in essence depend on his ability to ensure economic growth and social stability, an enormous task. I believe it will depend on continued institutionalized repression, denial of Cubans their civil rights and an expensive foreign policy marketing campaign by the government in Havana.

However, one modification is visible is on the horizon. The question is whether the new electoral law will serve as the the basis for an “updating” of the Cuban political system.

In his closing address to the First National Party Conference, army general Raúl Castro ruled out any possibility of multi-party elections in 2012.

He stated, “We will defend the one-party system against demagogic diversions and the commercialization of politics. If we make choices based on sovereignty, with the respect and support of the people, the (only) option is that of a single party.”

In February 2013  General Castro announced an upcoming change to the electoral law, noting that ” it is not healthy to be continually reformulating the nation’s constitution. However we carry out constitutional reform, we must do so within a reasonable period of time.”

It is worth remembering the current electoral law emerged from the 1992 reforms which revised portions of the 1976 constitution.

The constitution’s last article mandates that any significant change to the legislative branch, requires “ratification by an affirmative vote of the majority of citizens in accordance with electoral law through a referendum called for that purpose by the Assembly.”

There is one detail the president of Cuba did not overlook: “Some questions can be resolved by the legislature itself. Other more important ones require ratification by a favorable vote by a majority of citizens in a referendum.”

Anyone who understands the formal mechanisms of Cuban politics has known since 2013 that moving the National Assembly of People’s Power back to the semi-circular chambers of the Capitol means the number of delegates — currently at 605 — must be reduced.*

Why is a change to the electoral law in the works? Is it simply intended to reduce the size of the National Assembly so that the number of delegates does not exceed the number of seats in Havana’s National Capitol?

It is somewhat like the story of the husband** who comes home to find his wife cheating on him with his best friend in his own living room: he throws the sofa off the tenth floor balcony. It was the sofa that was to blame.

Translator’s notes:

*The Capitolio, Cuba’s national capitol building until the Cuban revolution, has been under restoration since 2013 in preparation for a planned move by the National Assembly into the building.

** “Throwing out the sofa” is a very common Cuban expression, derived from this joke. For Cubans, the expression needs no further explanation. See here, and here and here.