Analysis: The results of the 2023 parliamentary elections

Voter turnout at provincial level in Cuba's 2023 national election
Voter turnout in Cuba’s 2023 National Assembly elections by province (Source: own elaboration based on NNW/Commons)

The National Electoral Commission (CEN) in Cuba has announced the final results of last Sunday’s parliamentary election. According to the results, 75.87 percent of the 8.12 million eligible voters participated in the vote, marginally less than the 75.92 percent reported in the preliminary results. 72.1 percent of valid votes were cast for all candidates (“voto unido”), while 27.9 percent of ballots were cast for one or more of the candidates. 6.22 percent of the ballots were cast without a visible expression of will (“blanco”), and 3.5 percent were invalid. The percentage of valid votes was 90.28 percent.

There were 470 candidates standing for election to the same number of list positions. All candidates received the required majority of 50 percent of valid votes. 114 of them were nominated at the national level by the Election Commission and social organizations such as trade unions and professional associations, while 135 came from the provincial level. 221, just under half, were nominated at the grassroots level in neighborhood assemblies. Women make up 55.3 percent of the future deputies, and their average age is 46.

Opposition groups called the election in the one-party system a “farce”, since all of the nominated candidates support the revolution in principle and the Communist Party (PCC), the “leading force in the state and society” according to the constitution, serves as the political hegemon. Membership in the PCC is not a requirement for candidacy, but most members of the National Assembly belong to it.

Cuba’s government, in turn, sees the electoral system as a “genuine expression of socialist democracy,” since nomination at neighborhood assemblies also allows unknown individuals with merits to enter parliament, and the ban on election campaigns would exclude the influence of money and corruption in the electoral process. While local elections in Cuba involve a competitive selection process (2 to 8 candidates per list position with runoff elections), the parliamentary elections, according to the Spanish news agency EFE, are more of a “limited, plebescite exercise in which the political system itself is put to a vote.”

The president of the Electoral Commission, Alina Balseiro, stressed the “transparency and truthfulness” of the electoral process in Cuba at Thursday’s press conference. “It is possible to carry out an audit in our country, we are not afraid of that at all,” said Belseiro, who pointed out that the counting of votes on the island is done in public.

Voter turnout: A look into the provinces

As mentioned in the beginning, there were hardly any changes to the election results compared to the preliminary results. However, precise figures from the individual provinces and the results of the respective candidates are now available.

The highest voter turnout, 86.1 percent, was reported from the central Cuban province of Ciego de Ávila. The lowest turnout was in Havana, with 65.8 percent. 10 percent more than in the Novembers municipal elections though, in which only 55 percent of eligible voters from the capital appeared at the polls. In Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city, turnout was slightly above the national average at 76.8 percent.

Voter turnout is an important indicator in Cuba’s socialist system, as it can be used to gauge the population’s potential for political mobilization. There is no compulsory voting in Cuba, but going to the polls has been rooted in the political culture as a civic duty since the founding of the Poder Popular system in 1976.

Participation has declined by nearly one-tenth in the past five years. The largest decline occurred in the capital Havana (-13.65%), followed by the neighboring province of Mayabeque (-13.23%). Also significant double-digit decreases occurred in the eastern provinces of Guantánamo, Holguín, Granma and Santiago de Cuba. There was little change in the western province of Matanzas (-0.82%), while turnout in Ciego de Ávila increased slightly (+0.88%).

Overall, it can be seen that the differences between provinces have widened significantly. Havana, in particular, which is struggling with many problems and great population change, stands out. In central and eastern Cuba, Pinar del Río and the Island of Youth, on the other hand, an above-average number of people continued to appear at the polls. One explanation for this is that peer pressure and internal and external social control are much more pronounced in rural areas than in Havana, where, for example, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) do not (or no longer) function in many places. In addition, the structures in rural areas are more fragmented: A CDR chairwoman in the village, who knows her neighborhood like her family and has corresponding prestige and authority, is much more likely to be able to motivate the neighborhood to go to the polling station than a factory boss in Havana.

The drop in voter turnout this time – despite a severe economic crisis and protests in July 2021 – was 9.78%, lower than between the 2008 and 2013 elections, when turnout fell from 96.9% to 89.7% (-13.81%). On the bottom line, Díaz-Canel’s government was able to demonstrate its mobilization capacity and enter strenghtened into a political breather: The current legislature will last until 2028. The next party congress is scheduled for 2026 and the next local elections will be held in 2025.

In the run-up to the election, the government had, as usual, called for a “voto unido,” that is, for all candidates to vote. In 1993, Fidel Castro declared the voto unido to be a “conscious, revolutionary election strategy” and a “message of unity” to the outside. For the first time since 1976, less than half of the electorate responded to this call.

Figure 1: Voter turnout and voto unido in Cuba 2003-23 as % of eligible voters (Source: Own elaboration)

As can be seen in Figure 1, the decline in voto unido is in line with a long-term trend, with two major slumps preceding a period of relative stabilization, similar to the one seen in voter turnout. Again, the slump was somewhat larger between 2008 and 2013 (-16.33%) than between 2018 and 2023 (-15.63%). One can admittedly speculate about the causes: While the first slump in 2008 can possibly be explained by Fidel’s withdrawal from politics and the greater “routinization” of Cuban politics (in 2003, Cuba was still in the midst of campaign mode), the most recent decline – analogous to voter turnout – is certainly related to increased discontent as a result of the current economic crisis.

Results of the candidates

Also interesting: a look at the results of individual candidates and well-known top politicians. Although these do not provide any information about national approval ratings, since they are the results of a single constituency (direct mandate), certain trends can be identified here as well:

The 36-year-old chemistry teacher Yunet Diéguez garnered the most votes with 95.54% in the constituency of Jésus Menéndez (Las Tunas). The worst performer was the First Party Secretary of Camagüey province and member of the PCC Central Committee, Federico Hernández, with a result of 61.52%. By comparison, in the 2018 elections, the range of candidate results was between 65.75% and 97.35%, slightly lower at 31.6% than the 34.02% now. This is likely due to the trend towards selective voting, which increased by 8.34% compared to 2018.

Among seven selected well-known political figures, former head of state Raúl Castro achieved the best result with 94.97 percent in his electoral district of Segundo Frente in the province of Santiago de Cuba. The small mountain village of Segundo Frente was the founding site of the second battleground of the Cuban Revolution opened by Raúl in 1958 and is considered a revolutionary stronghold. However, Castro also lost ground by 3.8% compared to 2018. Ramiro Valdés (result: 84.15%), a 90-year-old veteran of the revolution and close confidant of Castro, suffered the biggest loss with 6.56%, followed by Mariela Castro, head of the sex education institute Cenesex, who received 79.29% of the vote in her constituency (-4.64%).

President Miguel Díaz-Canel entered the National Assembly through the constituency of his hometown of Santa Clara with 88.78% of the vote, about 4% less than in 2018. There was little change in the result of Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, while Prime Minister Manuel Marrero actually gained slightly compared to 2018. Economy Minister Alejandro Gil was elected to the National Assembly for the first time with 89.54%; his constituency is in the small town of Alquízar in the western province of Artemisa.

After being constituted on April 19, the National Assembly will elect the 23-member Council of State and the president, then appoint the prime minister on the president’s recommendation. It is considered likely that Díaz-Canel will seek a second term.

This article was first published on Cuba Heute, a German-language news portal.

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