Cuba hails legislative election as ‘victory’ despite criticism

Authorities say turnout surpassed 75 percent in weekend vote that did not include any opposition candidates.

A woman walks to cast her vote at a polling station in Cuba
A woman walks to cast her vote at a polling station during the legislative elections in Havana, Cuba on March 26, 2023 [Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters]

The Cuban authorities have said voters elected all 470 legislators for the country’s National Assembly, after the Caribbean island held legislative elections that did not include any opposition candidates.

Election officials said on Monday that the initial turnout was 75.92 percent, topping participation in municipal elections in November and a referendum on the Cuban family code, which legalised gay marriage, in September.

“We want to thank our people … for participating in a massive way in this electoral process of transcendental importance for the present and the future of the nation,” Alina Balseiro, president of Cuba’s National Electoral Council, said on state-run television.

Participation in Sunday’s election was widely seen by both pro- and anti-government groups as a litmus test to gauge support for the Cuban leadership at a time of deep economic crisis and growing social unrest.

On Twitter, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel hailed the vote as a “victory” for the Cuban people, adding on Monday that the high turnout was a “home run”.

The nation’s 23,648 polling stations closed at 7pm local time (23:00 GMT) on Sunday, an hour later than initially announced by authorities.

Cuba’s government does not allow opposition, so most parliamentary candidates are members of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). Candidates still must receive 50 percent of votes to be elected.

Opposition groups, primarily outside of Cuba, had encouraged voters to stay home in protest, saying the election had no meaning in a one-party system with no formal opposition or international oversight.

Cuba monitors its own elections and does not allow independent, international observers to follow the proceedings.

The United States embassy in Cuba denounced the vote as “undemocratic”.

“The Cuban people deserve real choices in real elections that feature candidates from more than a single political party and beyond the Communist Party,” the embassy wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday, Cuban voters had two choices: they could tick the names of any number of individual candidates, or they could select the “vote for all” option.

“I voted for the unified vote because, despite the needs, the difficulties that this country can have, I could not imagine” not casting a ballot, Carlos Diego Herrera, a 54-year-old blacksmith in Havana, told the AFP news agency.

He said abstaining would be like voting “for those that want to crush us, the Yankees”.

The lawmakers elected Sunday will serve for five years. In their first session, slated for April, they will choose the next president of Cuba from among their ranks.

The country’s president, Diaz-Canel, who won a seat in the legislature on Sunday, is widely expected to be re-elected by lawmakers.

The new crop of legislators is also expected to pass laws governing controversial issues including the regulation of the press, and the right to protest in Cuba.

Balseiro, the election official, said 72 percent of voters had chosen the option on ballots that allowed them to vote for all the candidates in one go, meaning that the 470 contenders were all elected.

“These preliminary results validate the election of the 470 candidates proposed as deputies to the [National Assembly], [each] with more than 50 percent of the valid votes cast,” Balseiro said.

Officials said that just over 90 percent of votes cast had been deemed valid, with 6.2 percent left blank and 3.5 percent annulled.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies