HAVANA, Cuba, April 25, 2015 (AMG) — For the first time in decades, two candidates unaffiliated with – and highly critical of – the Cuban government and the long-ruling Cuban Communist Party were able to run in Cuba’s local elections on April 19.
Though both dissidents ultimately conceded defeat after failing to muster enough votes against their individual opponents, the fact that they were able run in the first place is relatively groundbreaking.
The two candidates – Hildebrando Chaviano, a 65-year-old lawyer and independent journalist, and Yuniel Lopez, a 26-year-old member of the outlawed Independent and Democratic Cuba Party – sought seats on their respective municipal assemblies, which are responsible for local issues like water supplies, street repairs and insect fumigation.
Cuba’s municipal assemblies nominate half of the candidates for provincial assemblies, which, in turn, choose half of the candidates for Cuban National Assembly. The National Assembly elects Cuba’s ruling Council of State, and this body chooses Cuba’s president.
Had he been elected, Chaviano would have would have represented the Havana-based Plaza de la Revolución municipality, while Lopez ran in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality in south-central Havana. Both men had to be selected by a show of hands during official neighborhood meetings before being authorized to run in last week’s municipal elections.
Elections in Cuba: Since the 1959 revolution that swept the Castro family into power, Cuba has been governed by the Cuban Communist Party in a one-party political system. Generally speaking, political opposition to the government is suppressed: Cuban law bans campaigning and the participation of political parties in elections.
To guarantee perpetual Communist Party dominance, a government electoral commission handpicks half of the candidates in municipal and provincial level elections.
The only information about candidates that Cuban voters are permitted is a short, government-written biography, along with a small photo. Chaviano and Lopez’s pre-election biographies described them as “counter-revolutionaries” and linked them with foreign anti-government groups.
Promised reforms of political system: In the weeks leading up to Sunday’s elections and their eventual defeats, Chaviano and Lopez appeared optimistic about their electoral prospects.
“Some people say that there is fear in Cuba, and I say that people have lost their fear,” Lopez proclaimed.
“No-one from the government was expecting us to be nominated and even less that we would become candidates,” Chaviano explained, acknowledging the uniqueness of his and Lopez’s positions. “We have to take advantage of the moment.”
According to information from Cuban electoral authorities, Chaviano ultimately received 138 votes during Sunday’s elections, a figure the dissident subsequently described as a “significant amount.” Chaviano said that the elections appear to have been carried out fairly.
The younger Lopez was considerably less conciliatory in the wake of his own loss, pointing to irregularities at his municipality’s polling stations and a “campaign against him,” including voter intimidation, as the primary reasons for his defeat.
The elections saw about eight million Cuban voters turnout at the polls. 27,379 candidates stood for 12,589 municipal posts across Cuba.
Current Cuban president Raul Castro, the 83-year-old ex-revolutionary and brother of former president Fidel Castro, has vowed to reform the Cuban political system.
Image credit: Reuters