Millions of Cubans elected delegates to their nation’s 169 municipal assemblies on April 17. The elections came at the end of a two-month long process in which the people themselves — in the words of National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon — exercised their right to select, elect and be elected.

The municipal assemblies determine the makeup of the provincial and national assemblies and control the administration of local government.

Alarcon told reporters that the elections took place at a decisive moment, when the U.S. is escalating its threats against Cuba. The electoral process was conducted with “vigor and intensity,” he said, and had the effect of strengthening People’s Power, the grassroots system of participatory democracy on the socialist island.

The process began Feb. 15 when 15,000 electoral districts began putting up public displays of people’s names to create a list of electors. Citizens had until March 17 to add names of newcomers or remove names of people who had died or moved away. Then, between Feb. 25 and March 24, more than 8 million Cubans came together in 41,063 assemblies to nominate a total of 32,368 candidates. The result was that, on election day, from two to eight candidates were up for election in each municipality.

Cubans are proud of the transparency and simplicity of the process. Municipalities put up public displays of the candidates’ biographies and their pictures. On election day, children monitored the polling places and regular citizens looked in on the ballot counting.

Well over 90 percent of the Cuban people exercised their constitutional right to vote. A run-off election occurs if no one candidate secures 50 percent of the vote, and assembly delegates can be recalled at the behest of 20 percent of either voters or of other delegates.

Alarcon pointed out that the people themselves run elections rather than political parties corrupted by money and prone to demagoguery. “What we have is not perfect, but compared to the fiction of bourgeois representative democracy, our model is a shining sun,” he said.

The elections are nonpartisan, and almost 25 percent of the candidates are not members of the Communist Party. Cuba passed new election laws in 1992 to expand the people’s role in choosing members of the provincial assemblies and the National Assembly. Now, an electoral commission spends a year or so traveling throughout the country sifting through proposed nominees.

In 2002, for example, 32,585 candidates were nominated at grassroots assemblies for the 14,949 seats up for election. Nearly 82 percent of the voters participated in the process. Over 7,000 of the candidates were proposed at provincial meetings of mass organizations and another 16,000 at national meetings of mass organizations, which include women’s organizations, labor unions, and farmers’ and students groups.

The commission, whose composition is diverse and representative, produced a list that year of 1,199 candidates for the provincial assemblies and 609 for the National Assembly. Fifty percent of the nominees were municipal assembly members. The list is submitted to the municipal assemblies for approval, either through a vote on the entire list, or by voting on individual nominees. The assemblies choose their own leaders, including, in the case of the National Assembly, the Council of State.

Commenting on Cuba’s elections and system of governance, Isaac Saney, author of the recently published “Cuba: Revolution in Motion,” said, “In a very real sense the level of Cuban popular participation in day-to-day politics exceeds that of the West, where political participation for the vast majority is limited to casting a ballot at election time.”

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