Cuban Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel won a seat in parliament in elections held on the island earlier this month, moving him closer to succeeding Raúl Castro if he retires as promised in April.
But if Díaz-Canel indeed succeeds Castro, here’s an interesting tidbit: His presidency will have been endorsed by less than 1 percent of the island’s 8.6 million registered voters.
Cubans voted on March 11 for a national parliament, the National Assembly of People’s Power, which will meet April 19 to elect a new president of the Council of State, the highest government body. But only the voters in District 3 of Díaz-Canel’s hometown of Santa Clara had the opportunity to vote directly for the 57-year-old who could become Cuba’s first ruler not named Castro since 1959.
The Cuban government does not publish the number of voters in each district, or the total votes cast for a candidate. But the official Granma newspaper reported that Díaz-Canel won 92.85 percent of the valid votes cast in District 3.
So how many votes did he actually get? That number has not been made public, but here is a rough calculation: The city of Santa Clara, capital of Villa Clara province in central Cuba, had a population of 208,506 people older than 14, according to the most recent available figures from 2016. The municipality has four voting districts, required by law to have at least 50,000 voters.
Assuming that each district has one-quarter of the 208,506 residents, they would each have nearly 52,126 voters — the real figure would be lower because the voting age is 16 and prison inmates, among others, also are not allowed to vote.
That approximate number of 52,146 must also be reduced because of people who did not vote, annulled their ballots or left them blank. No such numbers were published for District 3, but Granma reported that turnout in Villa Clara province was 87.4 percent and that 6.19 percent of those who did vote invalidated their ballots or left them blank.
Applying those same percentages to District 3, it’s estimated that about 42,332 valid votes would have been cast.
Since Granma reported that Díaz-Canel received 92.85 percent of the valid votes, that means the next president of Cuba would have received the votes of about 39,305 residents of Santa Clara — about 0.45 percent of the 8,639,989 voters registered in Cuba.
In other words, only one out of every 220 Cubans voted for the man who could be selected as the island’s president next month.
How someone could win the highest office on the island with so few direct votes is the result of Cuba’s intricate electoral system.
Cubans can vote directly for candidates at only two levels. The first round of voting is for delegates of the People’s Power at the municipal level. Later, they can vote for delegates to the Provincial Assemblies and those running for seats at the National Assembly.
The 605 candidates for the 605 seats in the National Assembly are hand-picked and voters can only vote yes or no for their district’s candidate. There is no candidate that is voted on nationally.
Only one out of every 220 Cubans voted for the man who could be selected as the island's president next month.
The candidates to the national parliament are selected by a Candidacy Commission created by the Council of State and pro-government organizations. The list is then endorsed by local delegates selected on the first round of voting.
Only 47 percent of the candidates to the National Assembly come from the pool of delegates elected in the municipal balloting. The rest were government officials and members of pro-government organizations selected by the Candidacy Commission.
All of the 605 candidates for the 605 parliament seats in the March 11 elections won because they only needed more than 50 percent of the votes — and had no opponents.
Díaz-Canel or any other possible successor to Castro still must win another vote in the National Assembly to become the next president of Cuba. But here again, the electoral law leaves nothing to chance.
The Cuban law requires the National Assembly to appoint a 23-member committee to select the parliament deputies who will present the “candidacy for the presidency” and other slots on the Council of State. Deputies could change names in the list only if they a have a majority vote. The final list is then voted yes or no. It has always been voted yes.
Many Cuban dissidents say the electoral system is a “farce” and point out that only the Communist Party is legal, and that the system does not allow international observers.
But other Cubans closer to the government have proposed electoral reforms to at least allow the direct election of the president.
“Cuba is not the only country that elects its head of state in indirect elections. There are many countries that use this type of system, which does not affect its legitimacy or democratic protection by any means,” José Luis Toledo Santander, president of the National Assembly’s Commission on Constitutional and Judicial Issues, told Granma.
But many readers of Granma, official voice of the Communist Party, disagreed in a string of unprecedented comments on its website.
“There’s a growing desire in the country to elect the president of Cuba directly by citizens, from their place of residence, rather than by (National Assembly) deputies,” wrote one person who signed the post as Luis.
“The president is elected by deputies who are not even from my municipality,” wrote another who signed the post as Slr. Another user, identified as Xiomara, asked who selected the candidates to the National Assembly who did not emerge from the local balloting.
A commenter, who signed as Willmer, called for reforms of the electoral system, complaining about the lack of direct balloting and noting that two months short of the selection for the Council of State, none of the possible members are known.
Several wrote that they favored allowing many parties to participate in elections.
“Nothing against [the system],” said one commenter signed as Pedro Otto, “but I prefer a direct vote for president.”
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres