Cubans vote in parliamentary election
HAVANA -- Millions of Cubans have voted for parliamentary candidates in elections critics say are closed and offer no real competition, but that the government defends as grassroots democracy.
The elected unicameral legislature will convene Feb. 24 to pick a new parliament chief for the first time in two decades, with longtime leader Ricardo Alarcon not on the ballot.
The body is expected to rename Raúl Castro, whom state TV showed casting his ballot in the eastern province of Santiago, as president for another five years. Castro and his older brother Fidel, now retired, have headed up the government for five decades.
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 a year later. The former leader was among 25 National Assembly candidates from Santiago.
Voting began in 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.
Communist authorities say the lack of more parties or political campaigning keeps corruption and special-interest money out of elections. They point to high turnout as proof that it's a participatory system.
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, the last parliamentary election, was 96.8 percent. -- AP