Cubans are asked to endorse two official lists of candidates for the national and provincial assemblies. The government depicts the vote, which takes place every five years, as a symbolic show of unity in the face of U.S. hostility.
This year, though, the new national assembly will elect a president to replace 86-year-old Raul Castro on April 19. Starting with Raul’s late older brother Fidel, the Castros have ruled the Caribbean island for nearly six decades.
Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother as president in 2008, is expected to remain at the helm of the powerful Communist Party while First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, 57, is expected to become president.
Diaz-Canel, a party functionary since his youth, would be Cuba’s first modern head of state who was born after the revolution and has no military history.
In central Villa Clara province, where Diaz-Canel grew up and was head of the Communist Party, the candidate and his wife voted alongside local residents, smiling and chatting with them.
He told reporters the election signalled that Cubans wanted to defend their independence. “I am sure that sooner or later we will also defeat the imperialist design and we will also bring down the blockade with international support, with recognition of the resistance, of the heroism of our people and dignity. And today here we are also showing dignity,” Diaz-Canel said after casting his ballot.
Raul Castro voted with little fanfare at dawn in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains in southeast Cuba, where he had led a group of guerillas during the revolution.
Castro has said he will step down as president at the end of his second five-year term in April, but will continue as a National Assembly deputy. Many analysts expect his fellow revolutionaries to retire from the government, marking a generational shift.
More than eight million Cubans are eligible to vote and turnout is traditionally around 85 percent. While candidates on the slates are not required to belong to the Communist Party, the only legal party in Cuba, most do.