There was no campaign and only one party, but Cubans turned out in large numbers Sunday to elect city councils across the communist-ruled island.
President Fidel Castro emerged from a Havana polling place to cheers from dozens of Havana residents and proclaimed Cuba’s system “the most democratic of all democracies.”
Voters began lining up at 7 a.m. to elect about 15,000 members to 169 city councils. In the first four hours, more than 70 percent of the 7.8 million eligible voters had cast ballots, the government said.
Voting in Cuba is voluntary, and officials claim the high turnout can be attributed to support for the system. However, critics claim people fear being identified as dissidents if they do not vote.
Government and party organizations encouraged Cubans to go to the polling places, which were guarded by red-clad schoolchildren from the party’s Young Pioneers group.
While critics claim the election system is dominated by the Communist Party, Cuban officials say the selection of candidates in neighborhood meetings, the restriction on flashy campaigns and the heavy turnout makes their system more democratic than others.
Cuba’s election “is a competition of merit and a struggle for a political culture.” In the United States, he said, “half of the people go to the beach. They do not go to the ballot boxes,” Castro said.
While such competition may be an important element in local elections, Castro ruled out any thought of extending direct elections to include the office of president.
“Nobody has spoken of that, nor have they thought it,” said Castro, who has run Cuba since overthrowing dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
Castro also denied recent rumors he had been ill.