Don’t worry about Cuba’s shamtastic elections — focus instead on Castro’s reforms

Cuba — the Caribbean’s most populous nation with over 11 million people — is holding parliamentary elections this Sunday.cuba

But those elections are so stage-managed by the Cuban government that they make the recent troubling Jordanian elections look like best practices in liberal democracy.

As a technical matter, Cuban voters will elect all 612 members of the Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular (the National Assembly of People’s Power).

Fortuitously, there are exactly 612 candidates who have been selected for the honor of running in the election, which follows virtually no campaigning or fundraising or any of the other effluvia of modern elections.  It’s fair to say that, in contrast, the selection of the Politburo Standing Committee of the People’s Republic of China, has much more drama.

That’s probably all the same, anyway, given that the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC, Communist Party of Cuba) has been enshrined in the Cuban constitution as the country’s governing party since 1959.

The National Assembly meets just twice a year, and although it’s officially the ultimate law-making authority in Cuba, the reality is that its role is essentially to ratify decisions made by the executive branch of Cuba’s government, where the real power lies with Cuban president Raúl Castro (pictured above, left, with his brother Fidel Castro).  He heads both the Consejo de Estado (the Council of State), a 31-member body that exercises legislative authority in between the two annual sessions of the National Assembly, and the Consejo de Ministros (Council of Ministers), essentially the Cuban government’s cabinet:

Since virtually all decisions are made as executive orders by the Council of Ministers, the parliament is relegated to rubber stamping decisions already made and sometimes already implemented.

Virtually all votes are unanimous and any debates among the members are held behind closed doors. Even an abstention is highly rare. This is to say 612 deputies routinely agree with every executive order passed by the Council of Ministers.

Despite the sham elections, it’s nonetheless a dynamic time for Cuban policymaking, so there’s never been a more optimistic time for proponents of economic and even political reform.  Furthermore, given the advanced age of both Castro brothers — Raúl is currently 81 — it’s nearly certain that Cuba’s leadership will pass to a new generation sooner rather than later.

Continue reading Don’t worry about Cuba’s shamtastic elections — focus instead on Castro’s reforms

Clarke’s pro-Europe tone highlights referendum risk to UK Tories from the center


Longtime senior Conservative Party grandee — and former chancellor of the exchequer — Kenneth Clarke (pictured above) in no uncertain terms yesterday said that a British exit from the European Union would be a disaster.United Kingdom Flag IconEuropean_Union

That Clarke is pro-Europe is certainly not a surprise.

As former prime minister John Major’s chancellor from 1993 until the fall of the Tory government in the 1997 Labour electoral landslide, Clarke was the most prominent pro-European in Major’s government — at one point, Clarke was even in favor of the United Kingdom joining the eurozone.  When Major’s government irreparably fractured over divisons on the UK’s role with respect to Europe, Clarke was most certainly the top general of the pro-European faction.

So it’s not a shock to see Clarke joining forces with Peter Mandelson, the former Labour veteran, and others for a cross-party effort to boost the United Kingdom’s continued presence in the European Union:

“There’s a broad range of opinion inside the [Conservative] party. The number of people who actually want to leave the European Union; it’s quite tiny. They get a disproportionate amount of attention. My guess is that there are about 30 who want to leave and when we first joined the European Community I think there was slightly more than that.”

He warned that it would be “pretty catastrophic” if Britain left the EU and said he was now resigned to fighting a referendum on the issue if the Conservatives win the next election.

“The background climate in this county has become … unremittingly hostile. I think somebody has got to make the positive case again. The climate of public opinion just needs to be reminded how essential it is if we really want the UK to play a part in the modern world,” he said.

But it’s another headache for UK prime minister David Cameron, who announced in a widely anticipated speech last week that he would seek to renegotiate the United Kingdom’s role in the EU and, thereupon, call a referendum on the UK’s continued membership by 2017 (obviously depending on the reelection of the Tories in the 2015 general election).

Clarke’s outspoken support shows just how difficult Cameron’s balancing act on Europe has become — and it will only be more difficult as a potential referendum approaches. Continue reading Clarke’s pro-Europe tone highlights referendum risk to UK Tories from the center

First Past the Post: January 31

East and South Asia

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe will determine his government’s stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership before summer upper-house elections.

Taking a closer look at South Korean president-elect Park Guen-hye’s prime ministerial blunder.

North America

Calculated Risk on why the United States should not be too worried about its apparent 0.1% contraction in 4Q 2012.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine on why the US should be worried.

Latin America / Caribbean

Rafael Correa has a commanding 56% lead in advance of the Feb. 17 Ecuador presidential election — businessman Guillermo Lasso is his nearest competition with 13%.

Efraín Ríos Montt will face trial for genocide and crimes against humanity conducted while leading Guatemala in the 1980s.

More Ríos Montt background here.  [Spanish]

One economist on the performance of Peruvian president Ollanta Humala.

AMLO loses his battle over the July 2012 Mexican presidential election.


Zimbabwe — the country — has apparently only $217 left in its coffers. (Kickstarter, anyone?)

The grammatical ‘boo-boos’ of Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan.

Shell will pay some compensation to Nigerian farmers following largely pro-Shell Dutch ruling.  More here.

French forces have taken the key northern Mali town of Kidal.

Patrice Motsepe, Africa’s wealthiest black man, will donate half his wealth to the poor.

Looking at the next Malagasy election.


French voters lack confidence in president François Hollande by a 65% to 30% margin.

A look at where voters stand if snap Czech parliamentary elections occur, amid new pressure on Petr Nečas’s government on the EU fiscal compact.

Benjamin Elsner and Klaus F. Zimmermann publish research on migration to Germany in the decade following EU enlargement.

Felix Salmon at Reuters examines the soon-to-be-previewed European financial transactions tax.

Lady Ashton weighs in on the Russian ‘gay propaganda’ ban.

Yanukovych’s ‘family’ spreads its tentacles in Ukraine.

UK senior Tory Kenneth Clarke says that leaving the EU would be a fatal mistake.

Looking back on the rise of Adolf Hitler on its 80th anniversary.

Middle East

Egyptian military chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi warns the political crisis could lead to state collapse. (How far are we from a ‘memorandum coup’ circa Turkey 1997?)

Israeli president Shimon Peres meets party leaders following last week’s elections.

Tunisian Salafists on the rise?