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Cuba holds National Assembly elections Sunday, but there are only 470 candidates running for the 470 seats, with no opposition challengers and no campaigning. Voters essentially will do no more than endorse the nominated slate of candidates.
The polling held every five years technically is nonpartisan, but falls under the indirect control of the country’s true power under the constitution, the ruling Communist Party.
Half of the candidates come from municipal assemblies chosen in local elections last November. The other half are nominated by groups representing broad swaths of society — such as a women’s group and workers unions. All are vetted by election committees with ties to the party.
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Cuba’s establishment says the system is inclusive and builds unity, while steering clear of the divisiveness of party politics or any ill effects of big-money donors.
The outcome may be a foregone conclusion, but one indicator that will be closely watched is how many voters abstain from the process. That number has been growing over the past decade, which some critics point to as an erosion of confidence in Cuba’s one-party system as the country suffers a deep economic crisis.
What is the National Assembly?
The National Assembly is nominally the country’s highest governing power. It approves laws and votes for the president and executive officials from among its members.
In practice, the chamber typically endorses initiatives and the leadership favored by the Communist Party, which is the only political party allowed on the island nation and is enshrined in the constitution as the leader of society.
Half of the delegates come from municipal assemblies voted in during November elections, in which voters chose councilors from 26,746 candidates to fill 12,427 seats around the country. The other half are made of well-known personalities proposed by workers’ unions and social organizations such as the Women’s Federation, University Youth Federation and National Association of Peasants.
Special candidacy commissions with ties to the Communist Party then whittle the candidates down to 470.
The new National Assembly is expected to convene April 19, when it will vote on the executive leadership, with current President Miguel Díaz-Canel expected to be re-elected.
Cubans are set to vote in the Caribbean nation’s National Assembly elections Sunday, though there are no opposition candidates running. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Who are the Candidates?
Candidates include major Cuban leaders such as Díaz-Canel, the semi-retired former Communist Party leader Raúl Castro, Economy Minister Alejandro Gil, and Premier Manuel Marrero.
They also include musician Eduardo Sosa, LGBT community representative Mariela Castro and scientist Eduardo Martínez. Also a candidate is Elián González, who as a child in 2000 famously became the center of a diplomatic custody battle between Cuba and the United States.
Carlos Miguel Perez, a 36-year-old computer engineer who owns a medium-sized business, is a candidate in the capital’s Playa municipality. He told The Associated Press that he accepted the nomination of a telecom union after learning that the current assembly approved a 2023 budget that limits tax breaks to small and medium-sized businesses like his.
“It is necessary that there also be a representation of this private sector in the Cuban parliament,” said Perez, who is not a member of the Communist Party. “In Cuba, the election process, as I see it, is very popular, very popular with the people.”
There is no salary for being a National Assembly member.
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How Many People Vote?
Participation in elections in Cuba is high, but has been on the decline for a decade.
The National Electoral Commission said that for last November’s municipal elections about 31% of eligible voters abstained from voting, That translates to 69% participation, which is still high by international standards, but a substantial decline for Cuba where voting is not compulsory but traditionally was considered a national duty.
The rate of abstention for national elections was 14% in 2018 , and only 6% in 2013.
Many observers see the trend as a sign of declining enthusiasm for Cuba’s government as it fails to turn around deteriorating economic conditions.
Manuel Cuesta Morua is a dissident and the leader of Council for a Democratic Transition in Cuba, which is calling for people to stay away. “People will abstain because they are tired and fed up with a system that does not represent the plurality of the society,” Morua said. “There is no possibility for citizens to choose between different faces, different alternatives, different visions.”
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Julio Antonio Martínez Estrada, a lawyer, professor and a fellow at Harvard University, said he believes participation will continue to decline, in part due to the economy. “It is a response to the political and socio-economic problems of recent years,” Estrada said, adding that it reflects “distrust and an enormous hopelessness” among Cubans.