Cuba to hold single-party vote for Raul Castro's re-election
Cuba is to hold a single-party election on Sunday that is expected to result in the re-election of President Raul Castro for his second and possibly final term in office.
More than 600 legislators are to be elected to sit in the National Assembly, the only house of the Cuban legislature, in an election that dissidents reject as illegitimate.
No upsets are expected: After the election, the newly constituted National Assembly is expected to grant Castro a further five-year presidential term by month's end. If the plan to limit to two consecutive mandates the time in office of the communist island's highest officials is implemented, that new mandate would be Castro's last term.
Castro, 81, who announced such plans for a two-term limit himself in 2011, formally became Cuban president in February 2008, although he had already been acting president since July 2006 when his older Fidel Castro fell ill.
Both men are among the 612 candidates to sit in the legislature. Fidel Castro, 86, is a candidate for the eastern Cuban city of Santiago de Cuba, while Raul Castro is standing for the town of Segundo Frente, also in the Santiago province.
Cuban officials stress that all have previously been chosen by municipal delegates and citizen assemblies around the island, but dissidents and countries including the United States reject the system as a farce. The Cuban Communist Party (PCC) is the only one allowed in the country.
Many Cubans also criticise in private the little influence that the National Assembly has in te Cuban state, which is controlled by the Council of State and the island's political leadership around Raul Castro.
The election, on the other hand, is expected to pursue further the process that Raul Castro has promoted to rejuvenate the country's leadership.
Among those retiring, National Assembly Speaker Ricardo Alarcon stands out. At 75, he has led the legislature since 1993 and had previously been foreign minister for a year and Cuba's representative before the United Nations for close to three decades. He is regarded as one of the country's top experts in US-Cuban relations.
Among the upcoming new faces in the legislature, there is Raul Castro's daughter Mariela Castro, 50, who is standing for a seat for Havana.
She is well known for her socially liberal stance in favour of homosexuals on the island and has even fielded an initiative to legalise homosexual marriage in Cuba, although many think it is bound to clash with the wishes of some of the country's historic leaders.
About 8.4 million Cubans are registered to vote Sunday. Since the first such elections in 1976, turnout has always been above 95 per cent, according to state media.