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Municipal voting in Cuba begins election process

Municipal voting in Cuba begins election process
By WILL WEISSERT | The Associated Press
October 22, 2007

HAVANA – Cubans opened an election cycle Sunday that will lead to a
decision next year on whether ailing leader Fidel Castro will remain
atop the communist-run island's supreme governing body.

The nationwide municipal voting marked the start of a multitiered
process that culminates with parliamentary elections next spring.
Lawmakers could then decide to officially replace Castro, 81, with his
younger brother, Raul, as head of the 31-member Council of State.

The elder Castro has been the island's unchallenged leader since his
revolution toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. But he has not
been seen in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgeries and
ceding power to a provisional government headed by his brother in July 2006.

About 37,258 candidates were vying for 15,236 positions on municipal
assemblies nationwide and official media has said turnout of over 95
percent of the island's 8.3 million eligible voters was expected.

"If my commandant recovers his health, we will want him [as president]
forever. There's no one like him," said voter Gladys Veitia, tears
welling in her eyes.

Fidel Castro has looked lucid in recent state videos, but also frail and
in little condition to return to power. Cuban television reported he
cast his ballot around midday without leaving the undisclosed location
where he has been recovering for nearly 15 months.

In a statement read on official television during a subsequent national
newscast, Castro did not mention the elections, but referred to news
from Washington that, in coming days, President Bush planned to announce
initiatives aimed at fostering democratic transition in Cuba.

"Bush is obsessed with Cuba," Castro wrote, accusing the U.S.
administration of harboring terrorists, torturing terror suspects held
at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay and prolonging the 45-year-old
trade embargo against the island, which he called "your genocidal blockade."

The White House said Bush would announce new initiatives on Cuba at the
State Department on Wednesday. White House spokesman Tony Fratto said
last week that Bush would "emphasize the importance of democracy for the
Cuban people and the role the international community can play in Cuba's
transition."

The municipal elections are held every two and a half years. The
Communist Party is the only one allowed by the constitution, and while
candidates do not have to be members, critics claim they are the only
ones who ever win.

Authorities will announce official results late today. Many races
feature three or more candidates, and run-off elections will be held
next week.

Government critics and human rights groups boycotted the process.

Leading dissident Martha Beatriz Roque said elections are not secret
since all candidates nominated for municipal positions were chosen by a
show of hands at neighborhood gatherings — where no one dares nominate
opposition leaders.

"They are not democratic, so we can't call them 'elections,'" Roque, an
economist who was jailed for opposing the government but released for
medical reasons, said in a recent interview.

Cuba defends its system, saying it stresses service to one's neighbors
rather than excessive fundraising.

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/cuba/sfl-flacuba1022nboct22,0,1445467.story

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