The Cuban Electoral Council Describes Local Voting as a ‘Victory’, Despite the Record Abstentions
The Cuban provinces most punished by Hurricane Ian — which hit the western end of the Island at the end of September — recorded the highest rates of abstention and blank votes in the municipal elections of November 27, according to official data released this Wednesday.
In these elections, the highest percentage of abstentions since 1959 was recorded: 31.44%, according to official figures, cross-checked by EFE.
Although this data may be normal in other latitudes, it’s unusually high for Cuba. The Island is accustomed to participation rates even above 90%, although they have progressively decreased in recent years.
In Havana the abstention was 42.89%, an unprecedented rate and the highest among the 15 provinces, while in Isla de la Juventud it was 31.63% and in Matanzas, 31.14%.
These three western territories, among the most damaged by Ian, were among the five with the lowest participation. In the previous municipal (2017) elections, they were not among the highest rates of abstention.
In addition, three of the five provinces in which abstention increased the most compared to the municipal elections of 2017 and those of this November were also in the west: Havana (+27 percentage points, the fastest growing), followed in third and fourth place by its neighbors Mayabeque (+23.01) and Artemisa (+22.69).
Pinar del Río, the territory most affected by Ian, recorded the highest percentage of blank votes, 7%. For its part, in Mayabeque, practically one in 10 voters annulled the vote.
For three experts consulted by EFE, this demobilization is a form of rejection, which in a Western liberal democracy could be translated as a “punishment vote.”
The president of the country himself, Miguel Díaz-Canel, already used this expression in the referendum for the new Family Code and advocated incorporating it in the face of controversial issues “in the midst of a complex situation,” in reference to the serious economic and energy crisis that the country is suffering.
Experts consider that abstention, in the Cuban case, has a message. “Not voting in Cuba is a very important act of rebellion,” Leandro Querido, executive director of Electoral Transparency and author of the book Así se vota en Cuba [This is How Cuba Votes], tells EFE.
In similar terms, Diosnara Ortega, Cuban sociologist and director of the Chilean School of Sociology of the Silva Henríquez Catholic University, also speaks of “a politicized abstention.”
“Although in the rest of the world (abstention) responds to a process of depoliticization (…) in Cuba it is the opposite because (citizens) find in that recourse a way of dissenting from a power structure, not just from a Government,” she tells EFE.
Some experts go further and add the abstentions to the null and blank votes for what they call the “rejection” rate.
In the November municipal elections, that rejection rate reached 38.91% throughout the country, which is 17 percentage points higher than in 2017. In comparison, the Family Code rate was 30.13% (not counting the “no” votes), and in the 2017 municipal elections it stood at 21.59%.
Here the western provinces stand out again: Havana (49.75%) in first place and Mayabeque (39.85%) in second, followed by Isla de la Juventud (39.18%) and Artemisa (38.92%).
The region also stands out in the increase in the rejection rate compared to the municipal elections of five years ago. Havana (+26.07 percentage points) is at the top of the list, followed by Cienfuegos (+23.85), Mayabeque (+23.36), Artemisa (+21.07) and Isla de la Juventud (+20.57).
The president of the National Electoral Council (CEN), Alina Balseiro, stated that this rejection rate “is not a legal term” and considers that the results of these elections cannot be compared with those of previous elections, because they are “processes of a different nature” and because of the changes that the country has undergone since then.
Experts believe that the reasons for abstention are multifaceted, although they coincidentally point to the boredom and frustration of the population after two years of serious economic and energy crises as common elements.
The sum of the pandemic, the tightening of US sanctions against Cuba and errors in domestic economic policy have caused a great shortage of essentials from food to medicines and fuel, plus galloping inflation, prolonged and frequent blackouts and massive emigration.
In the west is added the damage caused by Ian, with winds of up to 125 miles per hour, which caused damage to more than 100,000 homes and serious damage in the countryside. Repair work is progressing slowly despite efforts.
Experts go beyond the economic and say that electoral criticism points to the entire political system in Cuba. This is pointed out by Ortega and Hilda Landrove, Cuban researcher, cultural promoter and candidate for a doctorate in Mesoamerican Studies from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
The latter reminds EFE that these demobilization percentages were not recorded even in the so-called Special Period, the serious economic crisis that followed the fall of the Soviet bloc.
“In Cuba 15-20 years ago, the speech of unanimity continued. We cannot forget that when there are elections, what comes into play is the validation of a system,” concludes Landrove.
Despite the adverse data, Alina Balseiro yesterday declared the election as “a victory for the people.” The president of the CEN even went so far as to say that the participation was a “clear expression of support” by “a majority.”
Electoral Transparency, which already made a critical statement at the end of the first round, made public a second text in which it insisted on the need to carry out an audit to verify the data of elections that are “incontestable.”
Translated by Regina Anavy