Cubans Demand a Direct and Secret Ballot to Elect Their President

03/08/2015 01:29 am ET | Updated May 08, 2015

Ballot for Election of the Municipal Assemblies of People's Power (Photo: Yoani Sánchez)

Ballot for Election of the Municipal Assemblies of People's Power (Photo: Yoani Sánchez)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Panama, 7 March 2015 -- A few years ago, I asked a friend why he had voted for a candidate he barely knew during the election of delegates to the municipal assemblies. His response at the time was simple and full of wisdom. "I don't want to get into trouble, it's not that the ballots are marked," he warned me slyly. With my face showing how embarrassed I was for him, he immediately declared, "Fine, in the end, voting or not voting, it isn't going to change anything."

My friend's comments highlighted two of the most serious limitations of the current mechanisms for electing the people's representatives. On the one hand, the little confidence that Cuban voters have in the secrecy of the process, and on the other hand, the inability of the candidates elected to influence the direction of the nation. Two of the aspects most mentioned in a forum about the electoral system just held on the digital site of the government newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth).

The discussion occurred during the days when a citation was put under my door to participate in the elections for the Municipal Assemblies of People's Power. A piece of gray paper, which most of my neighbors received with the reluctance of a formality that doesn't influence nor relieve the serious problems they face every day. Many of them will go to vote like automatons, just like during past elections, and with the same lack of faith in the process.

Not even the discreet announcement -- of just a few weeks ago -- of a new Electoral Law in Cuba, managed to put to rest these suspicions they harbor. A situation made clear in the discussion promoted by the official media, where among the demands most repeated by the readers was the right to a direct and secret ballot to elect the highest offices in the country.

It is true that the questions the People's Power has heard for decades in their own district assemblies are the fodder of comedians and even critics in the official media, but so far there has been a line no one dares to cross, that of questioning the method by which those occupying the highest positions in the nation are chosen. Discussing something like this immediately places the dissatisfied voter on the side of the enemy, of the opposition, and of the "puppets of the empire."

In 'Juventud Rebelde' discussion, readers asked about the right to a direct and secret ballot to elect the highest offices in the country

It is a relief to know one can inquire -- at least on the Internet -- about the mechanisms to decide who will sit in the presidential chair, although it only serves to receive an answer as poor as that given by the National Electoral Commission (CEN), which avoided the controversy by stating that, "at the appropriate time it will be addressed as a part of the legislative policy of the country."

There was another twist of the knife when a different participant in the virtual forum inquired about the existence of "a mechanism to measure the performance of the positions of President and First Vice President of the Council of State and Ministers, and if the National Assembly has the power to remove them from office." In response, the CEN demonstrated its scarce power of decision, "We regret we are unable to respond to your request, as it is not our responsibility," it confessed.

Among the notable absences in the discussion, however, was the ban on candidates putting forth a program, which means the voters mark their ballots based on a biography, rather than on the proposals of their future representative. When will we know if this university graduate, good father and better professional is also someone who shares our ideas about economic decisions, gay marriage or foreign policy? To vote for a photo and a list of merits -- as inflated as they are impossible to prove -- only prolongs the Government of the incapable and docile.

Nevertheless, the Juventud Rebelde forum has opened a crack that hints at a ballot that is independent and with guarantees -- improbable for now -- for our electoral system, raising broad and devastatingly deep criticisms of the ruling regime. The daring with which several commentators expressed themselves in the official organ of the Communist youth suggests that, when these opinions can be expressed without reprisals, they will become a veritable waterfall of dissatisfied voices.

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14ymedio, Cuba's first independent daily digital news outlet, published directly from the island, is available in Spanish here. Translations of selected articles in English are here.