Our interview with Dr. José Luis Toledo, president of the National Assembly of People’s Power Commission on Constitutional and Judicial Affairs, and tenured professor at the University of Havana, on elections in Cuba continues below.
How was the state organized following the adoption of the 1976 Constitution?
First, it established that the supreme body of state power would be the National Assembly of People’s Power. And one element that would distinguish the Constitution of 1976 is that it left behind the pre-established positions of the tripartite separation of powers (executive, legislative and judicial); and says that there is only one power in Cuba, it is the power exercised by the people, who will exercise it directly, or through the assemblies of People’s Power and the bodies that derive from it.
What are the characteristics of the National Assembly of People’s Power?
It is a unicameral body, it only has the chamber of deputies, and it is a non-permanent body.
It is a body in which all members are accountable and in addition, all are removable from their positions. There is an established law called the Law of Withdrawal from People’s Power Positions, which establishes the procedure to be followed to remove any of the members of the National Assembly.
In addition, its members are not professionals in their positions. If you go to the labor department and request the nomenclature of positions and salaries of the deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power, you will be told: that does not exist. Because in the National Assembly, of the eight deputies who have professional positions, our salaries are those of our previous jobs. There is no position with a pre-established salary, and that element characterizes not only the National Assembly, but also the other provincial and municipal assemblies of the country.
The country has two types of elections, general and partial, and the Municipal Assemblies are chosen through the partial elections.
In the country, every two and a half years there are partial elections in which the Municipal Assemblies are elected.
I always say that the Municipal Assembly is the central axis of Cuban revolutionary democracy, so it is a serious mistake not to work every day to strengthen the Municipal Assembly and the role of the delegate. Today, the enemy of the Revolution focuses all his aspirations on weakening the Municipal Assembly to take control of it, or at least for his representatives to gain access to it. Thus strengthening the Municipal Assembly and the figure of the delegate is a strategic role in the defense of the Revolution.
One question that many people ask is how delegates are elected if there are no parties in Cuba that nominate candidates?
The people directly nominate (candidates) in their electoral districts. Elections are convened, electoral commissions are created, we attend meetings, and we, as we freely and spontaneously decide, propose who our (nominee) delegates should be, by a show of hands. And in each district no less than two, or more than eight, people must be nominated.
No one here has gone to an election and been presented a ballot paper and told, these are the Party members for whom you have to vote, nor is anyone nominated for being a Party member, this element can perhaps be invoked as a reflection of leadership, fitting conduct, good performance, of a vocation for public service, but not because the condition of Party member is established as a requirement to enter public office in our laws.
In your opinion, what are the mechanisms for the control and transparency of elections in the partial process?
There are two ways to control the decision of an electoral process and to change it: either the electoral register is altered and includes people who do not exist, or the decision changes in the ballot box through the deposited ballots.
A characteristic of our electoral roll is its ease of access. All women have their children in hospitals, when that baby is born, a civil registry official arrives and will ask for the child’s personal data, and fill out a form. Later the mother goes to the identity records office and is given the minor identity card of her child and when that child reaches the age of 16, he is automatically registered on the electoral roll; there is no need to do any paperwork or pay any tax; he is already automatically an elector of the country.
The second step is that electoral authorities deliver the electoral roll to leaders in the CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) to verify in their blocks if those are the people who live there, so there is the opportunity to identify who lives there, who moved, who died etc.
But if that were not enough, that electoral roll is then put in public places, as well as the biographies of the candidates, and we can all check them. This is the transparency and popular control over voter registration.
The other way, is to control the voting. Who takes care of our ballot boxes? Our elections take place very calmly, on Sundays so that people go to vote, and the polls are taken care of by our pioneers. (elementary school children) But I always say more, we all take care of the ballot boxes, because when a son, nephew, or grandson is taking care of the box, the family spends the day checking on him to see that he is behaving well, etc. So the polling station is taken care of by everyone.
How are the votes counted? The count is public and members of the electoral commissions of the territory, representatives of political and mass organizations, candidates and other citizens who so wish can be present. The ballot box is opened, all the ballot papers are laid out, they are counted and the result is given immediately. So there cannot be any greater transparency. And if that were not enough, the national electoral commission, once the electoral processes have concluded, conducts random audits of polling stations.
The delegate is thus elected, the essential figure that we must all assist, and strengthen so that his administration is increasingly efficient with the help of all the people.
And that delegate joins the Municipal Assembly, which will chose from among its members a president, vice president, and appoint a secretary, and so the municipal assembly is formed.
Having explained all these elements, could you say a little about the general elections?
Every five years there are general elections, that is, the term of the National Assembly, which is the legislature, is five years. And they are called general because in them all levels of political representation of the country are elected: the municipal, provincial, and national assemblies.
And how are the provincial and national candidates chosen?
First, the Candidature Commission will be created, which is composed of the social and mass organizations of our society, presided by the Cuban Workers’ Federation.
This is how the nominations are collected for those who will be delegates to the provincial assembly and deputies to the National Assembly. Up to 50% of the members of the National Assembly will be delegates to the Municipal Assemblies and the rest will come from the core of these (mass) organizations, which in their plenums have the power to nominate people to assume these positions. That is, the plenum of the (Workers’) Federation meets, and by right has the power to propose candidates for deputies and candidates for delegates to the Provincial Assembly, and so do the CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), ANAP (Association of Small Farmers), FEU (Federation of University Students), etc.
With all the nominations made, the Candidature Commission starts a consultation process: they go to the work places of these people, to their places of residence, and they collect opinions about the person who has been nominated. Finally, they attend the plenary session of the Municipal Assembly and state, ‘we in this municipality, propose that so-and-so be candidates for deputies…, and that so-and-so be candidates for provincial delegates’, etc.., and the Municipal Assembly decides through a free and open vote.
The candidates to the Provincial Assembly and deputies are approved in the Municipal Assembly, for that reason I called it the central axis, and this is not a rhetorical exercise.
Where do the nominations for the country’s deputies come from? From the Municipal Assembly. So the Municipal Assembly is the center from which the formation of the superior state bodies is derived.
So then, with the nominations established, a similar process will be conducted in terms of candidacy, the formation of electoral publicity, the formation of electoral rolls, and then the people choose.
Once elected as a deputy, the person is given a certificate of election that is validated before the National Candidature Commission, to take up the position.
After this, the Candidature Commission summons each deputy individually; they are given a list featuring all the elected deputies and a form. Then they are told to propose who should be the members of the Council of State. And one sits with the list and says, ‘I propose for President of the Council of State and Ministers, so-and-so’, up to 31 people who make up the Council of State.
I said earlier that the National Assembly is not a permanent body, so it will need a body that represents the national and international interests of the state, during the time in which the Assembly is not in session.
Next, the Candidature Commission, with all these proposals, makes a single proposal, and presents it to the National Assembly. There any deputy has the right to raise his hand and say ‘I do not agree that this compañero be a candidate, and I propose so-and-so in his place’, and explains. And if not, the list of candidates is voted for by show of hands. Once the list of candidates is approved, in a direct and secret vote, the deputies elect the members of the Council of State and who will be the President.
Once the President of the Councils of State and Ministers is elected, he proposes to the Assembly the members of the Council of Ministers, and the assembly appoints them. Here, ministers are not elected in perpetuity, every five years their mandate ends, but they can continue because their re-election is valid.
Earlier you referred to the election of deputies, and from what I understand these people are elected by municipalities so that there is territorial representation in the National Assembly.
Of course, for example, a deputy is elected for every 20,000 inhabitants or fraction greater than ten thousand; this is established by the Electoral Law, guaranteeing that in each municipality there are at least two deputies. This distribution is dependent on the demographic characteristics of the territory.
Today, for example, we have a problem, the National Assembly is very large, at the moment we have 612 deputies and in the future we will have to study how to reduce its number (…) We have to carefully study how to reduce the number of members without sacrificing the representation of the people, to ensure that within the National Assembly there is the scientific eminence, the great sports personality, and also the agricultural worker.