A child in her school uniform salutes a delegate as he casts his vote
Notes on the Revolution / Column #59
January 20, 2020
On indirect and slate elections
By Charles McKelvey
On January 18 in Cuba, governors and lieutenant governors of the fifteen provinces were elected. They were elected by the delegates of the 167 municipal assemblies of the nation. In each province to which they pertained, the delegates marked (or did not mark) an X by the name of the candidates proposed for the two offices by the President of the Republic. That is to say, it was effectively a yes or no vote for each candidate proposed by the President. To be elected, a candidate had to be affirmed by a majority of the delegates.
In the January 18 elections, 99% of the 12,363 delegates of the municipal assemblies attended the 167 constituted electoral colleges to cast their vote. All of the candidates nominated by the President were elected, with votes of affirmation ranging from 93.67% to 99.44% for the thirty posts in the fifteen provinces. (The Special Municipality of Isla de Juventud, an island off the southern coast, was not included in the process of electing a governor and lieutenant governor).
The elections for provincial governors and lieutenant governors are indirect elections. That is, they are elected indirectly by the people, in that the people elect the delegates of the municipal assemblies, and the municipal assemblies in turn elect the governors and lieutenant governors. And the elections are slate elections, in which voters are offered a slate of candidates, and they approve or not the proposed candidates.
Elections in Cuba are a mix of direct and indirect voting, and a mix of multiple candidates and slates. They begin with direct voting and multiple candidates, followed by indirect voting with slates, like the vote for provincial governors on January 18.
At the base of the electoral process is the direct voting by the people for the delegates of the 168 municipal assemblies, in which the voters choose one of two or more candidates that have emerged from a series of neighborhood assemblies, in which the people propose possible candidates. Candidacy commissions participate in the process, by identifying two or more candidates that ought to be placed on the ballot, on the basis of the proposals in the nomination assemblies. The candidacy commissions consist of representatives of mass organizations of workers, students, women, farmers, and neighborhoods. The mass organizations themselves have direct election at the base and indirect elections for positions at higher level of authority.
A system of indirect elections with slates creates the National Assembly of People’s Power. Once the municipal assemblies are constituted, they nominate candidates for the National Assembly. Here too, the candidacy commissions (composed of representative of mass organizations) play a central role. They interview the delegates to discern their preferences for deputies to the National Assembly, and on this basis, they propose a list of proposed candidates that are presented to the delegates. Those proposed candidates with more than 50% approval are nominated for the position of deputy of the National Assembly. These nominated candidates are elected as deputies of the National Assembly by the people in a second round of direct voting, in which the ballot lists the candidates for the National Assembly from the particular municipality. Those affirmed by a majority of voters are elected deputies of the National Assembly.
The deputies of the National Assembly in turn elect the President of the Republic. The President of the Republic presents to the National Assembly proposals for prime minister and other ministers of the Council of Ministers, which must be affirmed by the National Assembly; and proposed candidates for governor and lieutenant governor of the provinces, which require affirmation by the delegates of the municipal assemblies.
Most people in the United States and other representative democracies of the global North believe that direct elections with multiple candidates is the most democratic structure. But they arrive to this belief without consciousness of the alternative process that has been developed in Cuba. The peoples of the North are aware of the limitations of the electoral processes of representative democracies, but not being aware of the Cuban political process, they are unable to imagine an alternative process, and they can do no better than limited piecemeal proposals for reform of the electoral processes of representative democracies.
The limitations of representative democracy increasingly are evident and are increasingly known and understood, often drawing editorial commentaries in the media of the North. It is well understood, for example, that successful electoral campaigns in the United States must raise enormous sums of money, placing all the candidates in debt to the biggest and wealthiest campaign contributors, whose interests will necessarily matter more than those of the people. Campaign advertising, speeches, and debates are characterized by superficial discussion of issues and manipulation of the concerns and fears of the people. Discourse and policies are oriented to the attainment electoral majorities. As a result, substantive and educational discussion of issues scarcely exits, leaving the people confused and divided, such that popular majorities often do not exist. In such a competitive and conflictive environment, in seeking to discredit a political revival, constraints of decency disappear.
Perhaps the root of the problem of representative democracies is its disdain for indirect elections, its assumption that the most democratic structure is one that has choice among competing candidates, a prejudice that is applied even when voting districts are large. In the Cuban system, a voter choice of one of two or more competing candidates is confined to the local level, in which delegates to the municipal assemblies are elected in voting districts of 1,000 to 1,500 voters. At this scale of the small and the local, the two or more competing candidates are known to the voters, by virtue of their contributions in the institutions and mass organizations of the community. They do not have to conduct campaigns to get elected, and they do not do so. The electoral councils place one-page biographies, including a photo, of the candidates in prominent places in the voting districts.
In indirect elections for national offices by the municipal and national assemblies, the delegates and deputies to some extent know one another, as a result of working together in legislative matters and other affairs of the assemblies; and the candidacy commissions help, by conducting interviews as the basis for a slate of candidates. There are not electoral campaigns for these higher offices, and thus no need for campaign financing.
But when there are direct elections with competing candidates in larger voting districts, like federal congressional districts in the United States, the voters have no basis for knowing the candidates, other than political advertising and similar superficialities. This situation gives rise to the launching of electoral campaigns by hopeful candidates, who must search for financing in order to have success. In this context, political leadership is reduced to politics, and politics is the conducting of successful electoral campaigns, compromising policy decisions. The focus must be on image and the financing of image, and getting elected and reelected.
To be sure, the Cuban electoral model cannot be copied in other national contexts. Nevertheless, in the context of the current crisis of legitimation of representative democracy, attention should be given to understanding the political process that has emerged in the context of the Cuban Revolution, given its success in attaining rule by the delegates and deputies of the people, and in attaining political stability and societal consensus with respect to important issues. Understanding of the Cuban political process could provide insights for creative reflection on possible changes that could be proposed in the representative democracies of the North, in order to facilitate a less conflictive and more informed public debate and political process.
This is Charles McKelvey, reflecting on the unfolding global popular socialist revolution forged by our peoples in defense of humanity.
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