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article imageKey things to know about Cuba's government reforms

By Moises AVILA (AFP)     Jul 13, 2019 in World

Cuban lawmakers on Saturday approved a new electoral law that will alter the country's government with the restoration of the post of prime minister, but one fundamental reality remains unchanged: the central and unique role of the island's Communist Party.

Here are five key things you need to know about the reforms, which follow the adoption in April of a new constitution that recognized the market but insisted on the "irrevocable" character of socialism.

- The current system -

Since 1976, the National Assembly, which meets twice a year, has been the main organ of government.

Its members are popularly elected, but all candidates are pre-selected by a party-supervised commission, and the number of candidates is identical to the number of seats, meaning voters have no real choice.

The Assembly elects the Council of State and Cuba's president, a position occupied since 2018 by Miguel Diaz-Canel.

The late Fidel Castro (1926-2016) was prime minister from 1959 to 1976, when a new constitution abolished that position.

From 1976 to 2008, he served as president -- technically, president of the Council of State. His brother Raul filled that position until 2018, when Diaz-Canel succeeded him.

- The changes -

The new electoral law re-establishes the posts of president and vice president of the Cuban republic, elected by deputies in the Assembly for five-year terms, renewable once.

No surprise: Diaz-Canel is expected to be elected president.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel (R) stands with National Assembly President Esteban Lazo during a ...
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel (R) stands with National Assembly President Esteban Lazo during a 2019 May Day event in Havana
ADALBERTO ROQUE, AFP/File

The Council of State will be headed by the president of the National Assembly.

But he will henceforth have a prime minister at his side.

The assembly's current president, Esteban Lazo, has said the president of the republic will be elected in October and the prime minister will be named in December.

- The prime minister -

The prime minister will be nominated by the president of the republic and ratified by the Assembly. He or she will lead the government as the key decision-maker in the executive.

"The executive function will be different: there will be another head of government" along with Diaz-Canel, "and that will be the prime minister," Estrada explained.

"What will define this position will be the capacity for leadership and the type of person chosen to fill the post."

- No new direct elections -

During rare public debate over constitutional reform, calls arose for a system of direct popular elections. In the end, only municipal council seats will be filled that way.

Other positions will require approval by a candidacy commission supervised by the Communist Party, which has said it will not intervene directly in the choices made.

Despite the reform, "indirect election will not change, and even more institutions will be filled via indirect vote," said Julio Fernandez Estrada, a Havana-based lawyer and specialist in constitutional law.

"From the point of view of the electoral system and its democratization, there's not much new."

He added: "People were expecting a little more, a direct election for governors, for the president of the republic, but it didn't happen and it won't happen because it's not provided for in the constitution."

Members of the candidacy commissions will come from six labor union, farming and student groups close to the government.

Dissident factions see the reforms as a serious disappointment.

The platform of opposition group Otro18 states that it "collected more than 5,000 signatures to promote, in the medium and long term, a pluralistic, inclusive and sovereign electoral system that defends free and democratic elections in Cuba with a president of the republic elected directly, as our people demand more and more."

- A smaller parliament -

The number of deputies is being cut from 605 to 474, and the Council of State will be reduced from 31 to 21 seats, but those changes will not take place until 2024, when the terms of current members end.

One reason for the streamlining was supposed to be to allow the Assembly to once again meet in El Capitolio, the national Capitol building, as it did in the past.

"The expectation was that they would go below 300 in order to be able to meet in the Capitol building," Estrada said, but in the end that level was not reached.

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