Continued below is the third and final part of 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, regarding Cuba’s electoral process; specifically the role of publicity in Cuban elections, the appointment of the President, and link between participation and representation:
We see electoral campaigns taking place across the world and all the publicity that goes with them. How does this work in Cuba?
The only electoral publicity is a small poster with the person’s photo and a summary of their biography which is displayed in key public places, such as markets, butchers, shops… so that people can familiarize themselves with the candidates.
Here, no one has individual programs, because we work on the basis of unity and a unique political system.
However, we must not confuse electoral publicity with an electoral campaign. As part of this process, the Electoral Commission organizes tours of different areas where candidates talk with the people. This is one thing, a campaign, however, is something different involving people plastered with stickers and photos and unpleasant disputes which take place in other countries.
How are the concepts of representation and participation linked in Cuban elections?
Every citizen has the right to elect and be elected. The only circumstances under which a person cannot participate in the electoral process, as established by law, is if they are mentally disabled, don’t meet the age requirements, or are legally incapacitated. As soon as an individual goes out and votes for someone, they are passing their power of representation to that person; so, when that person takes an action, they are representing the entire group of voters who gave them power of representation.
Now, this doesn’t restrict a person from directly participating in decision making. For example: when we drew up the Labor Code, all workers in the country were consulted and had the opportunity comment on what they liked or disliked, and make suggestions.
This is a form of direct participation in the exercise of power, as is participating in elections because you are designating, choosing, the representatives to the country’s representative leadership bodies.
When you elect the municipal assembly you are electing the government of the territory: and that person represents you in the exercise of local government.
Many people ask why there are National Assembly deputies elected in territories where they don’t live?
This stems from a mistake. Deputies do not represent territories. Deputies have national representation, and in the National Assembly the most important issues of general interest to the nation are discussed, not territorial problems.
When the National Assembly meets to approve the state budget for example, it’s not to build a school or repair a local doctor’s office, but they say: so many millions of pesos for public health, so many millions of pesos for education, etc. That’s how it’s distributed. Territorial issues are separate and resolved at a municipal and provincial level.
What we do have to work on is creating more links and interaction between deputies and voters from each constituency, district, and municipality, and in order to do so, the Party leadership has approved and is currently implementing a program called Perfecting People’s Power Bodies.”
Another frequent question regarding elections in Cuba is why don’t we elect the President?
This position is determined by second-order elections, as established in electoral law, in which elected representative bodies vote. When I vote for a deputy to the National Assembly, I am investing them with the sovereign power to make decisions, and one of their faculties as a deputy is to choose who will be President of the Councils of State and Ministers.
We are not sui generis in this regard. How does Spain choose its head of government? The president of the Spanish government isn’t elected by popular vote, but rather the courts decide.
What is more, we don’t have a presidential system, ours is a semi-parliamentary one. Our President doesn’t have the power to make decisions alone; our president doesn’t appoint and dismiss ministers; our President doesn’t grant honorific positions or appoint ambassadors. That is to say, all the major decisions are concentrated in the hands of collegiate bodies, not in a single person.
So, electing a single person as president is redundant if, at the end of the day it is the collegiate body that governs.
Furthermore, to be elected President in Cuba you must go undergo a five-stage electoral process: first you must be nominated and approved in a plenary vote by a social or mass organization; second, you must be approved in a municipal assembly vote; third, you must be elected via direct and secret vote by voters from your electoral district, if you are not elected at this point you can’t be a deputy; fourth your nomination must be approved by the National Assembly; and fifth: you must be elected by deputies via direct and secret vote.
So, yes there are electoral processes to choose the President; more than adequate in my opinion.
We previously spoke about reducing the number of deputies to the National Assembly, and you commented that studies would be carried out at a later date. What other elements must be considered when approving or modifying the electoral law?
Work is underway to draw up a new electoral law. Other issues to consider are the structure of elections, the presence of a permanent, professional body responsible for managing electoral processes unlike the temporary system we have today. Because, as it currently stands, the electoral commission is appointed on a temporary basis and when elections are over the commission is dissolved. These are issues that will be analyzed.
And finally, one of the greatest concerns today is linked to the 2017-2018 electoral process and the continuation of the historic leadership. In your opinion, how important are the upcoming elections?
The important thing about the upcoming elections is that they are general elections. We are going to choose the higher bodies of state power and as such, the comrades who will occupy the leadership of the country for five years, will be elected. This is why I believe they are so important.
I also think they will be marked by an important aspect, and that is, as Raúl has stated, the end of the historic leadership’s term in office. I think this give it (the elections) a special significance, but we have been preparing the stage for this moment, with the wisdom and vision of the historic leadership of the Revolution and Army General (Raúl Castro).
It’s not going to be a traumatic moment because we are all prepared. We revolutionary forces have been politically-ideologically conditioned for the historic moment that will occur in the country, and we are ready for the change.
Therefore, our confidence in the Party, in its leadership, will make it a very important, but also a natural process for the country. And, for me, the key lies in the equanimity that has always characterized the Cuban people.
(Razones de Cuba)