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Why Cuba needs a new electoral law

elecciones pionerosWhat will the approval of a new electoral law mean for Cuba? What reforms will it include? What positive experience of previous electoral processes will be considered? What challenges will its implementation pose?

These questions and many more were raised during a dialogue with Orisell Richards Martínez, PhD., professor at the Law School of the University of Havana. Knowledgeable beyond her 33 years, she insists on speaking of the engagement of all citizens in this process because that is the right path to an Electoral Law – to any law.

“The new Constitution is impregnated, from its first article on, with this spirit of participation and takes to a new dimension Marti’s maxim ‘with all and for the good of all’,” she says.

- Why is a new Electoral Law needed?

First, the current Constitution establishes in its First Temporary Provision that, within the six months after the approval of the new Constitution, the National Assembly of People’s Power must approve a new Electoral Law, which is a binding mandate, considering the supremacy of the Constitution itself, as established in Article 7.

This temporary provision refers to the election of representatives to the National Assembly of People’s Power, its president, vice-president and secretary; the National Electoral Commission, provincial governors and deputy governors, representatives to the municipal assemblies of the People’s Powers, their presidents and vice-presidents.

Furthermore, the new structure of the state as defined in the Constitution, requires an Electoral Law that establishes the mechanisms for the organization and guarantees of this process.

Likewise, there are positive experiences of previous electoral processes that need to be reflected in the law. Other processes must be overhauled, expanded or simplified, so the final law reflects our reality in the most coherent way possible, without ignoring the complexity of electoral processes.

- Given Cuban electoral history, what do you think should remain unchanged in this law?

The law must maintain, in the first place, what the Constitution establishes in Article 204, where it expresses that all citizens with the legal capacity, have the right to intervene in the direction of the state, either directly or through their elected representatives to organs of the People’s Power and to participate, for that purpose, as provided for by law, in periodic elections, plebiscites, and popular referendums, which shall be by free, equal, direct, secret ballot vote. Each elector has the right to only one vote.

It should also maintain the essence of municipal elections regarding proposal, nomination, and election of delegates by the direct vote of the people. This first stage is essential to democracy, because the municipality is the level closest to the elector. It is a good place to inspire learning and improvement of electoral processes.

Other elements that should remain unchanged, among others, are the principles guiding these processes that have characterized our electoral system, such as the inclusion of grassroots representatives which can reach up to 50% of the deputies in the National Assembly.

- Which processes should the new law expand or simplify?

There are stages in the electoral processes, such as the swearing in ceremony for example, that become too formal sometimes, and since they have been previously valued, they are extended unnecessarily. They should be revisited in the new law.

However; in accordance with constitutional guidelines, which establish information and transparency as basic precepts of the organization and functioning of the state, there are other processes, such as those developed through candidacy committees, for example, that should become more visible.

In this sense, processes such as the pre-selection of candidates should be developed in line with this guideline: On what principles is it based, what are the control mechanisms regulating it, to ensure selection of the best proposals and to inform the people.

Likewise, the Constitution also defines the permanence of electoral structures. Even though there are constitutional principles that clearly establish the organization of this body at all levels, the law should broaden other aspects such as the number of members; how many will be full-time staff members; and what is the content of their work between elections, for example.

It also should guarantee, in line with its mission, the reliability, transparency, speed, publicity, authenticity, and impartiality of the processes of democratic participation, which implies a great responsibility.

The benefits that the permanent character of these structures implies should be emphasized from the standpoint of control and follow-up of processes, professionalization, and the promotion of a culture of engagement.

We should not only focus on electoral participation but also on plebiscites, referendums, popular consultations, as the Constitution establishes in Article 80. Even in immediate procedures such as the Eleventh Temporary Provision, which mandates, in a period of two years, the drafting of a Family Code, its submission to popular consultation and a referendum.

This law will also have the authority to stipulate how the election and revocation of electoral bodies will proceed: it must regulate the number of representatives to the National Assembly, in order to increase its functionality without undermining its ability to represent the people and its efficiency in action. It also should explain, for example, how the relationships between the public, permanent Voter Registry and the National Electoral Council will work.

Moreover, there are some positive practices that should be reflected in this new law, such as the participation of supervisors and collaborators in the electoral process, without overlooking the basic principles for their registration, as well as their training.

- And once the law is passed, what will happen?

We will be witnessing a new scenario for everyone and for the way information is provided to the people in electoral processes. Then a process to elect and create the new state bodies will ensue, which is essential to organize and legitimatize these structures, and to implement the main transformations taking place in the country.

The Constitution’s temporary provisions and its foundational precepts can be taken as a guide for what should be established related to the election of the highest positions in the state and government including governors, deputy governors, and mayors.

- The country’s highest authorities have insisted on the inclusion of universities and the legal sector in the legislative process demanded by the new Constitution, how do you evaluate this relationship in this case?

There are new experiences these days in the field of relations between researchers and decision-makers that are very innovative and this is a fundamental step forward in overhauling the legal system in general. In the field of elections, specifically, there are research results that have been used as references in making some modifications, which is highly significant in the current context.

However, even though the new Electoral Law will reflect the current state of affairs in Cuba and reforms introduced in the structure of the state, we cannot talk, in any way, of a finished product. The transformations that could take place in the future, as part of the ongoing process of democratic consolidation in our society, will also have a legal framework.


The new law has 16 titles, 45 chapters, 32 sections, five final provisions, six transitory ones, with a total of 290 articles.- Proposed is the creation of a National Electoral Council and electoral councils at the provincial and municipal levels, to exercise their functions permanently. – Two periodic elections are recognized: municipal votes for the election of delegates to Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power, their presidents and vice presidents; and national elections for deputies to the National Assembly, its president, vice president, secretary, other members of the Council of State, and the President and Vice President of the Republic. – Proportional representation for the election of deputies to the National Assembly of People’s Power is to be modified, reducing the total number of deputies elected by 131, although maintained is the principle that 50% of deputies are elected delegates to municipal assemblies.- Proposed is the simplification of procedures to verify the validity of elections to Municipal Assemblies and the National Assembly, establishing that this is the responsibility of electoral authorities. – The Council of State will include 21 members, from among whom the leadership will be chosen.- The swearing in of the President of the Republic is to be incorporated within the ceremonial constitution of the incoming National Assembly.

- The proposal establishes that elections for provincial governors and deputy governors be held simultaneously throughout the country, and establishes guidelines for this process.

- Electoral Councils at all levels are to control the preparation and updating of the Voter Registry.- Provisions are incorporated for plebiscites in relation to voting abroad, as established in current law for referendums. – Sentencing guidelines for “electoral crimes” are more severe and it is established that they will eventually be incorporated into the new Penal Code.- Municipal Electoral Councils are expected to participate in processes that take place to revoke the mandate of a delegate, which implies modifications to the relevant current law (No. 89/99) – Salary regulations for members of electoral structures are proposed.- The draft law further develops the principle that the vote is free, equal, direct and secret; grants the constitutional right that each citizen has to elect, be elected, and be listed in the Voter Registry; nominate and be nominated as a candidate for delegate to the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power; as well as participate in electoral processes and file related legal complaints.

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