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Ballot boxes without 'pioneers' and a probable record abstention rate in the Cuban regime's municipal elections

'As for the rations, they're very bad, nothing like the good lunches they used to bring us in little boxes, to last us all day,' a member of a polling station told DIARIO DE CUBA.

La Habana
Voting station in Havana.
Voting station in Havana. Granma

Less than 64% of the Cubans summoned to exercise their right to vote in the municipal "elections" had gone to the polls by 5:00 pm this Sunday, November 27. The polls should have closed at 6:00 pm, but some polling stations remained open an hour longer.

Of the 8,351,311 voters who were expected to vote this Sunday, 5,332,591 had done so by 5:00 pm, or 63.85%, according to figures provided by the National Electoral Council (CEN) to the state-run Cuban News Agency (ACN).

These numbers reflect the apathy observed by several Cuban activists who visited the polling stations during the first hours of the day.

"Several of the members of the initiative saw the opening of some stations, to measure participation, which was very low. What we have seen the most are people over 45 years old, between 45 and 70, because the presence of young people is very limited," Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna, leader of the Citizens' Committee for Racial Integration (CIR) and a member of the Electoral Rights Observers initiative, told DIARIO DE CUBA.

After midday, State Security prevented the activist from leaving his home. The same thing happened to Marthadela Tamayo, of the Women's Network of Cuba, her partner Osvaldo Navarro, and activist María Mercedes Benítez.

If the trend of low turnout observed by activists and reflected in the partial results published by the official press was sustained, abstention in these elections will break the record of 2017, when more than 7.2 million Cubans voted, 82.05% of the island's citizens, in this phase of the regime's "electoral process."

Thus far, that year's participation is the lowest. For the first time, the regime was not able to exhibit a percentage above 90%. That trend continued during the 2019 constitutional referendum, when only 84% voted. Then, last September, during the referendum on the Family Code, only 76% of Cubans went to the polling stations.

"Elections" in Cuba have ceased to be "a party," explained a member of a polling station, who expressed his dissatisfaction with the security measures and the food to a DIARIO DE CUBA correspondent who toured several polling stations in Havana and was able to gather impressions.

"This year the security for the elections has been very deficient. To begin with, the voting booths are very bad and rustic. They look like small carnival bathrooms with pieces of wood without any finish and bad sackcloth," complained a member of the voting table at the Eduardo García Lavandero elementary school located in Lawton, in the municipality of Diez de Octubre.

"The usual summons ballots that help so much in the organization of the voting did not arrive. As for the rations, they were very bad, nothing like the good lunches that they used to bring us in little boxes to last the whole day," he added.

"Before, voting was a day of celebration. Residents fought to be the first to vote. Now we struggle to even have young ?pioneers? to guard the ballot boxes. They came for a while and left," the interviewee concluded, with nostalgia.

The tardiness of the pioneers was one of the incident evidenced at some polling stations, according to a report by the state-owned newspaper Granma. Also, some members of the tables arrived late, according to a story from the official medium, which, although published three hours after the closing of the polling stations, did not offer figures, even partial, of the citizen participation in the process.

Although the regime usually points to attendance at the polls as a show of support and faith in the electoral process, many Cubans who do not dare to stay at home choose to cast blank ballots, like a voter from Old Havana who voted at the polling station located at the José Martí elementary school, in Obispo 461, and spoke to DIARIO DE CUBA.

"I annulled my ballot. I put a big NO on it with a pencil that I brought with me. This is my way of protesting against the misery in which we live. We don't have blackouts here because the cables are underground, but we can't take it anymore. I imagine that the real figures will not be published, but I took pleasure in annulling it, just as I enjoyed shouting 'Patria y Vida' (Homeland and Life) at the top of my lungs in front of the Capitol on July 11 (2021)", he said.

Other Cubans do not dare to stay at home or to void the ballots out of sheer fear, given the widespread rumor that the ballots are marked.

"I voted so as not to be marked man. I want to travel and I need to avoid being blacklisted until I leave. They were at my house twice to summon me and they, with the CDR and the Government, track who votes and who doesn?t. Even friends of mine have told me that the ballots are marked to monitor those who casts blank ones. I don't want any problems. I'm over that and I don't care who gets elected," said Raynel, another voter from Old Havana.

The authorities' concern about the low turnout of Cubans at the polling stations was reflected in the extension of voting hours.
Voting was scheduled to end at 6:00 pm, but the CEN decided to extend it for another hour, "in response to requests from polling stations and voters" who had asked to exercise their right to vote, according to ACN.

Article 97.2 of the Cuban Electoral Law grants the CEN the power to set a different schedule or extend it in one or several electoral districts or polling stations when force majeure makes it advisable, said María Esther Bacallao Martínez, secretary of the organization, quoted by ACN.

Given the opacity of the regime's electoral system and the obstacles imposed on civil society and citizens who do not support it, Cubans on and off the island promoted a campaign in favor of abstention.

The opposition platform Council for Democratic Transition in Cuba (CTDC), which tried to put candidates forward, complained that only one of the seven it supported, José Antonio Cabrera Parada, managed to be nominated, while six women who wanted to run did not make it due to pressure from the regime.

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