Cubans vote on slate of parliament candidates
AP and ReutersHAVANA -- Millions of Cubans voted Sunday for parliamentary candidates in elections critics say are closed and offer no real competition, but that the government defends as grass-roots democracy.
February 5, 2013, 11:59 am TWN
The elected unicameral legislature will convene Feb. 24 and pick a new parliament chief for the first time in two decades, with the body's longtime leader, Ricardo Alarcon, not on the ballot.
Voting began last October with municipal elections.
Term limits do not exist in Cuba, but on various occasions Castro has proposed limiting public officials including the president to two consecutive periods in office.
Government critics call Cuban elections perfunctory, noting that only the Communist Party is permitted on the island and only one approved candidate is on the ballot for each seat in parliament.
Among those voting in Havana on Sunday was Fidel Castro, who appears in public only occasionally now since he fell ill in 2006 and stepped aside permanently less than years later. The former Cuban leader was among 25 National Assembly candidates from the eastern city of Santiago.
Parliamentary candidates don't need to belong to the Communist Party, but those who don't generally are members of allied organizations.
“It is a different electoral system. Personally I find it is more democratic than (others) I know,” Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said after casting his ballot at a school in an upscale neighborhood of western Havana.
More than 8 million islanders are eligible to vote, and will approve 612 members of the National Assembly and over 1,600 provincial delegates. The government said turnout in 2008, when the last parliamentary election was held, was 96.8 percent.
Reuters talked with more than half a dozen voters on Sunday before they entered the polls in Havana. None of them knew the candidates on the national slate from their districts.
“What's certain is they are all revolutionaries and that's what matters,” said retiree Eduardo Sanchez.
The candidates were equal to the number of positions up for a vote, the only choice being to not vote for a certain candidate or leave blank or spoil one's ballot.
“Cuban voters will check 'yea' or 'nay' from this new list of candidates, so it's not a direct competition,” said Julia Sweig, director of Latin America studies and the Global Brazil Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think tank.
Nevertheless, she added, the slate of candidates represented a big demographic and political step forward from the current assembly.
“Some 67 percent of the candidates are completely new picks, and of these, more than 70 percent, were born after the revolution. Women comprise 49 percent of the candidates and Afro descendants 37 percent,” Sweig said.
The deputies are elected for five-year terms.