Amid domestic change, Cubans march to the polls
By Marc Frank
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cubans went to the polls on Sunday to elect a Communist Party-selected slate of 612 deputies to the National Assembly at a time of change in how they live and work, but not in how they vote.
Veteran leader Fidel Castro, 86, made a rare appearance on Sunday to cast his ballot. He voted from home in local elections last year and in 2008 when the current assembly was elected, according to the National Information Agency.
President Raul Castro and other leaders were shown on state-run television casting their ballots and commenting on the importance of the election as a show of support for reforms and independence from the United States.
Raul Castro is decentralizing the state-dominated economy, allowing more space for private initiative in agriculture and retail services and has lifted many restrictions on personal freedoms, such as travel and buying and selling homes and cars.
Castro, since taking over from older brother Fidel in 2008, has also introduced term limits (two five-year stints) for top government posts, but has drawn the line at legalizing other political parties and contested elections.
"Renouncing the principle of a single party would be equal to legalizing one or more imperialist parties," Castro said at a Party conference last year.
He insisted critics, and even some friends, did not take into account the "abnormal state of siege" the country is experiencing.
"The one-party elections in Cuba, alongside steady but slow progress on opening the economy, represent how the current regime intends to manage change on the island - giving the people more space to participate in the economy while controlling their role in politics and civic life," said Ted Piccone, deputy director of foreign policy at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. Continued...