CubaNews / February 2003
By Larry Luxner
On Jan. 19, Cuban citizens sent 609 deputies to the National Assembly and 1,199 delegates to provincial assemblies in the nation’s one-party, one-candidate parliamentary elections.
About 8.1 million of Cuba’s 8.2 million registered voters cast ballots, with 96.14% of them submitting valid ballots and 91.35% of them supporting the government’s call for a “united vote” for all candidates on the slate.
The elections, according to the official Communist Party newspaper Granma, offered “overwhelming proof of popular support for the nation, the revolution and socialism.”
Vice President Carlos Lage called the Election Day exercise “truly democratic and free,” even though all of the candidates ran unopposed. Voters could either mark or leave blank the circle next to each name on their ballots.
Yet critics say Cuba’s electoral process violates many universal norms of recognized parliamentary democracies.
Among other things, no accredited foreign media or independent observers were permitted at voting sites — despite Cuba’s Electoral Law, which allows for “public scrutiny” of the elections. In addition, dissidents were turned away from voting areas.
Cuba’s leading opposition groups — the Assembly to Promote Civil Society and the Varela Project led by Oswaldo Payá — dismissed the elections as a “parody” of the democratic process and urged voters to cast blank or voided ballots in protest. At least 313,294 voters did exactly that, acknowledged the official National Electoral Commission.
“This is not an election,” said former political prisoner Vladimiro Roca, who served a five-year jail term for anti-government activities. “In an election, you can choose between different options. Here, the only option is to continue as we are. This is one of Fidel Castro’s many frauds.”
A first round of balloting on Oct. 20 elected members of Cuba’s municipal assemblies. The National Assembly includes several well-known personalities including folk singer Silvio Rodríguez and Juan Miguel González, father of Elian González.
According to the University of Miami’s Cuba Transition Project, 17% of the seats in the National Assembly are occupied by the Castro government’s senior leadership. Another 10% of assembly members are senior officers in Cuba’s armed forces.
Castro, who was once again renominated to the National Assembly as a delegate from Santiago de Cuba, extolled the elections as “a response to the [U.S.] empire in its efforts to destroy the revolution.”
Interestingly, blacks and mulattos have continued to increase their representation in the National Assembly. According to official figures, 32.8% of all delegates are either black or mulatto, up from 28.3% in 1998 and 26.4% in 1993.