Now that a broad majority of close to three-fourths of Cuban voters approved the new constitution, two issues are arising. One, from a standpoint of citizens’ political rights, authorities cannot ignore any longer an ever-growing (now close to 27%) voter segment leaning towards a contrarian or critical view of the system’s modus operandi. Two, attention is now turning towards the adoption of particular laws that translate the general constitutional outlines into practical policies.
First, a quick look at the numbers provided by the National Electoral Commission.
- 7.848 million of 9.3 million eligible voters cast a ballot. This figure is indicative of an unusual degree of abstention (more than 1.45 million voters), with voters exercising what is commonly described as a “negative vote”.
- The “yes” got 6.819 million votes (73.3% of the total voter roll).
- The “no” got more than 706,000 votes (7.7%). Add to that almost 326,000 invalid and blank ballots and the close to 1.5 million non-voters — according to the latest electoral commission information — and we get some 2.5 million of the total of 9.3 million eligible voters. This is close to 27% of the total, a number without precedent in Cuban elections. These Cubans must be included in the political system in the future, with their own mechanisms and ways of representation.
Some considerations to better understand the results:
- No one familiar with the Cuban process should be surprised by this landslide victory. You have to be blind or too politically biased in order to not recognize the progress made in this new constitution in comparison to its predecessors from 1976 and 1992.
- It should not be overlooked that the current political system in Cuba — beyond its many limitations and errors — has enjoyed until now a historical level of legitimacy and loyalty among the vast majority of Cubans, particularly senior citizens, many of them protagonists and active participants in the revolutionary process. In recent months, the Cuban welfare system has had plenty of opportunity to show its efficacy amid natural disasters. Media campaigns since August and course corrections in favor of the rising private sector and foreign investment have also helped.
- The referendum was designed in unequivocal terms: “Yes” or “No”, without any alternatives. This had been discussed during the debate phase of the constitutional draft, and before the second-to-last step, the December vote at the National Assembly.
- The more polemic issues were not put up separately for a vote (there could have been a selection of the three to five most controversial aspects), which could have offered more choice to voters.
- In this context, the “negative vote” took the form of “No” votes and an unusually high voter abstention.
- Two international aspects also influenced the referendum: One, the new aggressiveness and threats against Cuba emanating from Washington, which rallies many Cubans around their government. And two, the Trump administration’s destabilization campaign against the Chavista allies in Venezuela, whose survival until now — far from intimidating those who continue to support the Cuban project — has injected anti-U.S. intervention Cubans with new vigor.
- Bottom line: The current leadership, in transition towards “renewed continuity”, has logged in a notable victory.
Among the leaders quoted by official media reports on the day of the referendum, none boasted about the expected results. With moderation, they talked about how confident they were that the new constitution would be ratified “by the majority” (Homero Acosta, secretary of the Council of State, and one of the architects of the new constitution). Nobody talked about unanimity or overwhelming majorities. Marino Murillo, the vice president in charge of implementing the guidelines of reform, talked about the importance of economic reform and the notion that “a country cannot develop without foreign investment”. Luis Torres Iribar, a lawyer and Party secretary in Havana, emphasized that “after the referendum, the process of writing and editing laws will begin, for the new constitution to take root in the daily lives of Cubans.”