By Helmut Reuter, Isaac Risco and Martin Fischer
HAVANA TIMES (dpa) — Cubans went to the polls on Sunday in a single-party election that the government described as free and dissidents and human rights activists slammed as a farce, the “ritual of a totalitarian model.”
Turnout was high, as expected: according to the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, more than 86 per cent of the people registered to vote had already cast their ballots one hour before polling stations closed.
But the biggest news, in fact, was a rare public appearance from the communist island’s long-time leader, Fidel Castro, who cast his ballot in Havana on Sunday at a centre in the El Vedado district.
He was once again a candidate to hold one of the more than 600 seats in the National Assembly.
It was almost a year since the 86-year-old former president, who gave up power for health reasons in mid-2006 after coming to power in 1959, had last appeared in public.
He had not been shown live on Cuban television since March, during the visit to the island of Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI.
In recent months, there were rumors about his death, and photographs of him were published in Cuban state media in October and January.
As he cast his ballot, Castro spoke to reporters for more than an hour. Bent by old age and with a weak voice, the man who was once known for his hours-long addresses before national and international audiences commented on various issues.
“I am sure that the Cuban people are a truly revolutionary people,” he said.
“Elections here are not like in the United States, where only a minority votes. We cannot ever let that happen, because here it is the people that rule.”
Around 8.6 million Cubans were registered to vote for 612 legislators and 1,269 delegates in 15 provincial assemblies. The Cuban Communist Party (PCC) was the only party involved in the election, because it is the only one that is legal on the island.
The International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) said the vote shows the absence of democratic processes in Cuba.
“Every candidate on the list is ‘elected’ automatically, without any alternatives,” the ISHR said.
Neither the National Assembly nor the regional legislatures are allowed to do anything that is nor previously authorized by President Raul Castro, who took over from his brother.
The results of the election were expected to be made public later Monday. Both Castro brothers were candidates to represent the eastern Santiago de Cuba province.
New legislators are set to come together in about two weeks for a session in which they will elect members of the Council of State. Raul Castro is expected to be re-elected president for a further five-year term.