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Archive for Monday, January 21, 2008

Castro on ballot for new parliament

January 21, 2008

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— Cubans ratified a slate of parliamentary candidates on Sunday including Fidel Castro, the ailing 81-year-old leader who has not been seen in public for nearly 18 months.

Only one choice appeared for each post in districts across the country and there was no campaigning. The Communist Party is the only party allowed, but the government says membership is not a prerequisite for the parliament that rubber stamps official party policy.

Still, Cubans lined before dawn to cast their ballots. Some 8.4 million voters were being asked to back 614 top Communists, career politicians, musicians and athletes for posts in the legislature, known as the National Assembly.

Electoral officials said an estimated 95 percent of registered voters had cast ballots as of an hour before polling stations closed Sunday evening. More complete results are expected Monday afternoon.

Castro, Cuba's unchallenged "Maximum Leader" since 1959, provisionally ceded power in July 2006 following emergency intestinal surgeries and is still recovering. But he has remained head of the Council of State, the island's governing body, and re-election to parliament from Santiago in eastern Cuba makes him eligible to be named to the post again.

Candidates lose if they do not get more than 50 percent of the vote, although National Assembly officials don't remember that happening since Cubans began voting for parliament in 1993.

Castro's younger brother Raul, who has been governing during Fidel's illness, announced that the new parliament will meet Feb. 24 and declare a new Council of State. The elder Castro has run unopposed for council head in past parliament votes, but Raul did not say whether he would again be named council leader or retire.

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