The blank and null votes cast in Cuba’s elections Sunday, considered as protest votes, rose to 9.3 percent and set one of the highest levels of the Castro era, official figures showed. The 91 percent turnout was one of the lowest ever.
Havana blogger Yoani Sanchez noted that the number of Cuban voters who did not turn up, left their ballots blank or annulled them outstripped the estimated 800,000 members of the ruling Cuban Communist Party of Cuba (PCC).
National Electoral Commission President Alina Balseiro late Monday described the balloting to elect about 14,500 members of municipal councils as “enthusiastic and calm” and noted that 33.5 percent of those elected were women.
Cuban elections do not really reflect voters’ sentiments because the Communist Party is the only legal party and controls the process tightly, no campaigning is allowed and no dissident has ever been accepted as a candidate for any elected post.
But casting blank votes or damaging ballots to nullify them is a willful act of opposition, said Ted Henken, a professor at New York’s Baruch College who studies Cuba and co-authored an academic paper that in part dealt with the elections.
A group of “democratic socialists” who back the government on many issues in fact had urged voters to nullify their votes Sunday by drawing a “D” on their ballots to demand direct votes for president and human rights.
Official results from Sunday showed 4.9 percent of the ballots were left blank and 4.4 percent were null. The total of 9.3 percent was one of the highest known, compared to 8.89 percent in 2010, 7.7 in 2008, 5.9 in 2003, 7.2 in 1997 and 7 in 1993, according to official and news media reports.
“The Cuban state is increasingly weak and is less able to rule uncontested,” Henken wrote in an email to El Nuevo Herald. “Cuban society is seeing a growth in independent, critical projects and groups, and this demonstrates that more everyday Cubans are losing fear of not toeing the official electoral line when voting.”
Turnout, a weaker signal of opposition because it can be affected by factors such as weather, dropped to 91 percent on Sunday, from 95.8 percent in 2010, 95.4 percent in 2007 and 98.7 percent in 1984, according to official and news media figures.
“Interest in the elections here? None” said Eunices Madaula, a dissident who lives in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. “Elections here don’t bring any changes, so people don’t care.”
Andy Gomez, senior fellow at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, said that during his last trip to the island he also noticed more people had become “apolitical … They are disenchanted with politics, period.”
Balseiro said more than 8.1 million of the 8.5 million registered voters — citizens 16 and older — turned out Sunday to elect about 14,500 seats in 168 municipal councils throughout the nation of 11.2 million people. She added that 7.3 million votes were valid.
Those elected in the municipal balloting later can become candidates in successive elections for the provincial councils and the National Assembly of People’s Power. The national vote is expected in February, and the new assembly is then all but certain to select Raúl Castro to a second five-year term as head of the government.
One unsurprising loser was Sirley Ávila León, 53, who was seeking reelection to the Majibacoa municipal council in Las Tunas province but gave a recent interview to the Miami-based Radio/TV Marti alleging a lack of government services in her district.
The self-described “revolutionary” said she came in second, with 168 votes, because her current district of Limones was reapportioned to three different districts following the interview. The winner, with 475 votes, was the incumbent.
Of the 51 votes cast in the part of her old district where she remained a candidate, Avila added, 41 favored her.