20071022070106votinginhavana_203bap.jpgMillions of Cubans have been to the polls in elections to choose more than 15,000 municipal council members. It was the beginning of a process that will culminate in delegates electing a new National Assembly next March. The assembly will then choose the Council of State, which President Fidel Castro has led since the early 1960s.

These were the first elections since Mr Castro temporarily handed over power to his younger brother, Raul, for health reasons over 14 months ago. The communist government in Cuba describes its electoral system, which was enshrined in the constitution of 1976, as one of the freest and fairest in the world, where almost anyone can be elected to a municipal council or national assembly seat. However, critics like the US and the EU, along with dissidents on the island, disagree. They say the electoral process in Cuba is merely a cosmetic democratic exercise, which has no place for government opponents, as it is fully overseen by the country’s ruling Communist Party.

95 Percent Turnout
Raul Castro has been in charge for nearly a year. This latest round of municipal elections was expected to see as many as 95% of voters on the Caribbean island turn out. The poll has been given added significance because it is the first since Raul Castro took over as acting president in place of the 81-year-old Fidel at the end of July last year.

Since then, the status quo has reigned in Cuba and there has been no sign that the country’s ruling Communist Party has lost any of its hold on power. Cuban media said Fidel Castro cast his ballot at the secret location where he is recovering from intestinal surgery.

US Sanctions
The transition of power from Fidel to his brother came about despite predictions to the contrary from Washington and the leadership of the Cuban exile community in Miami. But in a sign that it recognizes its system is one primarily governed by aging revolutionaries, the Communist Party urged young Cubans to stand for municipal council seats in the hope of pumping younger blood into the government’s aging political structure. On Wednesday, US President George W Bush is due to unveil what the White House calls new initiatives to help Cubans push for democracy.

Source: BBC News

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