Cuba elects new national, local parliaments
HAVANA - Over 8.5 million Cubans on Sunday started to cast their votes for the picking of nearly 1,900 members of the country's new national and provincial legislatures.
They are expected to elect 612 National Assembly members from an equal number of candidates, and select nearly 1,270 delegates to the 15 provincial people's power assemblies, or the local legislatures, for a five-year term.
A total of 29,942 polling stations were set up across the island nation and are running from 7 a.m. (1200 GMT) to 6 p.m. ( 2300 GMT) Sunday. The elections involve 14,737 electoral commissions of various constituencies and over 225,000 election officials, with some 150,000 working in the polling stations.
According to Alina Balseiro, president of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), voters have received necessary training to ensure a smooth voting process, and the voting system was fully tested in a trial run conducted last Sunday.
Official statistics showed that some 67 percent of the new National Assembly's members are expected to be new faces, and nearly half of its members will be female.
Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and director of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), is running for the first time for the national legislature.
According to the Cuban constitution, candidates for the national and provincial legislatures must gain more than 50 percent of all valid votes to get elected.
Cuba's Electoral Act also stipulates that within 45 days after the National Assembly election, the new Assembly should hold an inaugural meeting and appoint a 31-member Council of State, including its president, for a term of five years.
Incumbent President Raul Castro is expected to secure a second term at the upcoming meeting. But it would also be his last due to a 10-year limit for anyone to hold government offices introduced in 2011 by the ruling Cuban Communist Party.
Raul Castro, 81, is running for the new National Assembly as a candidate representing the municipality of "Second Front" in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba. His elder brother and former president Fidel Castro, now 86 and retired since 2006, represents the district of Santiago de Cuba city.
The last parliamentary elections in Cuba were held in 2008.