Cuban Assembly to Decide on Castro

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CBNNews.com -- By Monday afternoon, Cubans should know the results of their island country's National Assembly parliamentary elections.

However, the outcome is still predetermined as the Cuban people have been asked by the current dictatorship to back 614 top Communists, career politicians, musicians and athletes for seats in the legislature.

Only One Choice On Ballot

Only one candidate's name appeared for each post in each district across the country. And unlike their American counterparts only 90 miles away, there was no campaigning. There is only one party allowed: the Communist Party. However, the government maintains that membership to the party is not a prerequisite to hold a seat, since this legislature basically makes laws at the whim of official party policy.

Among the candidates is Cuba's 81-year-old leader ailing leader Fidel Castro. He has not been seen in public for nearly 18 months, which has led many to wonder how long Castro will remain in power.

According to Cuban election officials, almost 8.4 million voters on Sunday backed the 614 candidates who ran for the rubber-stamp parliament. Electoral officials said an estimated 95 percent of registered voters had cast ballots an hour before polling stations closed Sunday evening.

Cuba maintains that its elections are more democratic than most because candidates are chosen by municipal leaders nominated at neighborhood gatherings. But U.S. officials and other critics counter that the elections do not represent a real opportunity for Cubans to decide for themselves how and by whom they will be governed.

Many Cubans say they feel compelled to vote in a country where neighborhood leaders have a say in their chances to get jobs, housing, and other official approvals.

Cuban opposition leaders as well as many in the U.S. government say the election is a sham. They say reported turnouts lead many Cubans astray by the false sense of unanimity that is being portrayed.

Castro Expected To Be Reelected To Assembly

Voters in Castro's home district were expect to re-elect him to the National Assembly. According to the country's constitution, he must hold a seat in the parliament to be eligible to stay on as chief of the island's governing body, the Council of State.

But will the assembly choose Castro as council president when it convenes for the first time on Feb. 24, or will the bearded dictator step down after nearly 50 years?

Castro himself has hinted at retirement. In December, he wrote that he has no intention of clinging to power or standing in the way of a new generation of leaders.

"I do what I can: I write," he added in an essay published in official media, seeming frustrated. "Writing is not the same as speaking."

On Sunday, Castro cast his ballot as he convalesced at an undisclosed location. He provisionally ceded power to his younger brother Raul in July 2006 following emergency intestinal surgeries, but has remained head of the Council of State.

But officials insist his health is good enough for him to continue as Cuba's leader.

"You should have no doubt that he's ready," National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon told reporters after casting his ballot. "He is in a position to continue that job, and the vast majority of Cuba will be more than happy , myself included."

"Entering A Complex Chapter"

Raul Castro announced the Feb. 24 date for the new National Assembly's first session after casting his ballot. However, he would not say whether his brother would stand for the presidency again or retire. He suggested Cuba is entering "a complex chapter, in which we have to face different situations and great decisions."

"The temporary transfer of power would, in effect, be annulled," Marifeli Perez-Stable, vice president for democratic governance at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington D.C. and a professor at Florida International University, wrote in December.

"It'd be an embarrassment for Raul Castro and the others that they couldn't rein in the physically diminished Comandante," Perez-Stable wrote, using a title commonly used on the island to refer to Castro. "It would be an affront to ordinary Cubans to have this man - so ill he hasn't appeared live before them for 17 months - declared their president again."

Adjusted To Raul?

Analysists say Cubans appear to have adjusted well to Raul, so much so that they rarely talk about Fidel anymore. They just occasionally comment on his published letters.

"Now, at the age of 81, handicapped and incapable of providing coherent leadership, the end of his historic reign is imminent," former U.S. intelligence officer Brian Latell said of Fidel Castro in an essay earlier this month.

"It seems all but certain that, voluntarily or not, he'll vacate the Cuban presidency early this year, though he may symbolically hold onto some new, wholly honorific title," added Latell, who has studied the Castro brothers for decades.

Source: Associated Press

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