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Archive for Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Cuba sets national elections critical to Fidel Castro’s future

November 21, 2007

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— Cuba announced Tuesday it has set Jan. 20 for national elections that are part of the process of determining whether ailing leader Fidel Castro continues as president.

The ruling, signed by interim leader Raul Castro and read on state television, set the date for elections to provincial and national assemblies - voting that is held every five years.

There was no explicit mention of Fidel Castro, but the 81-year-old leader of the Cuban Revolution must be re-elected to the national parliament before he could repeat as president of the Council of State to remain in full power.

Raul, 76, is the council's first vice president.

The January elections come almost 18 months after the elder Castro stepped aside on July 31, 2006, because of emergency intestinal surgery, provisionally ceding his functions to his brother and a team of other top leaders.

He has not been seen in public since, appearing only in official photographs and videos and regularly writing essays with mostly international themes.

The parliament, known in Cuba as the National Assembly, elects a new council every five years, several weeks after deputies are elected. It was not announced when the new National Assembly would meet for the first time to renew the top council members.

Cuba's constitution calls for the council's first vice president, currently Raul Castro, to fill the presidential slot when vacated. Fidel, Cuba's unchallenged leader since 1959, held the council presidency since its 1976 creation.

Phil Peters, a Cuba analyst with the pro-democracy Lexington think tank outside Washington, said January's vote would be "an election with real suspense."

"If (Fidel) doesn't put his name on the ballot he is effectively resigning," Peters said.

However, even if Castro relinquishes the presidency, he could still play a key role in the nation's leadership in his current position as Communist Party general secretary - arguably a more politically powerful job - or in a new emeritus position.

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