Dissidents: Voting shows frustration
Municipal election results showed that null and blank ballots increased
and turnout was down slightly.
By JUAN O. TAMAYO
Official returns from Cuba's municipal elections Sunday show an increase
in null and blank votes, and a slight drop in turnout, that dissidents
said reflect the growing disgruntlement on the island.
The National Electoral Commission reported Monday that 94.69 percent of
voters had cast their ballots, with a preliminary tally of 4.33 percent
of the votes declared null and 4.58 percent left blank.
Turnout in the 2007 municipal elections was reported at 95.44 percent.
The highest turnout was registered in 1984 with 98.7 percent and the
lowest was in 1976 with 95.2 percent, according to an EFE news agency
report in 2007.
The 8.91 percent of null and blank votes in Sunday's balloting was
higher than in three known previous elections -- 7 percent in the 1993
national legislative elections, 7.2 percent in the 1997 municipal
elections, and 5.9 percent in the 2000 municipal elections, according to
Jorge Dominguez, a Harvard University Cuba expert. Results for other
elections were not available.
The twin changes, while relatively small, reflect Cubans' growing
frustrations with their economic crisis and the sense that elections
will not change systemic problems such as too much centralized control,
corruption, and inefficiencies, dissidents said.
``This shows the state of disgust among all the people. There's a lot of
cynicism,'' said dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe.
Espinosa Chepe said the elections took place at an especially tough
time, with rumors of massive layoffs sweeping the country and Raúl
Castro's government clamping down on opposition movements like the
Ladies in White.
``The economic situation is worse each day ... and there's a state of
terror, of fear in the society,'' he said by telephone from Havana.
``People are only thinking of how to save themselves.''
Opposition member Hector Palacios said he wasn't surprised by the lower
turnout figures and higher numbers for null and blank votes, because the
lack of public enthusiasm for the election was visible everywhere.
``The elections were very cold. There was no interest,'' he said by
telephone from Havana, adding, ``More than these numbers, you had to see
the faces of the people (voting)'' to perceive the lack of enthusiasm.
Electoral commission President Ana María Mari Machado nevertheless
portrayed the turnout Sunday as ``a forceful show for those who question
the democracy in Cuba.''
Though voting is not mandatory in Cuba, turnout percentages are in the
high 90s because members of the neighborhood-based Committees for the
Defense of the Revolution and others pressure citizens to vote.
``By 10 in the morning they have already visited you twice to urge you
to vote,'' Palacios said. Cubans who don't vote can be branded as
dissidents and lose their jobs, he added.
Voters had no real choice among candidates who were mostly Communist
Party members or strong government supporters, Palacios said.