Cuba vote opens final chapter of Castro era

In this file photo a schoolboy remains standing at a polling station at Nautico neighborhood in Havana during municipal elections. Cubans vote on March 11, 2018, for 605 members to the National Assembly who will be elected, among them, the successor of President Raul Castro. (AFP/Yamil Lage)
Updated 11 March 2018

Cuba vote opens final chapter of Castro era

HAVANA: Cuba votes for a new National Assembly on Sunday, a key step in a process leading to the election of a new president, the first in nearly 60 years from outside the Castro family.
The new members of the National Assembly will be tasked with choosing a successor to 86-year-old President Raul Castro when he steps down next month.
Raul took over in 2006 from his ailing brother Fidel, who had governed since seizing power during the 1959 revolution.
Eight million Cubans are expected to turn out to ratify 605 candidates for an equal number of seats in the Assembly, a process shorn of suspense and unique to the Communist-run Caribbean island nation.
“They’re the most important elections of recent years, because we are going to vote for new people who will govern from then on,” day-care center guardian Ramon Perez told AFP.
Sunday’s general election is the first since the death in 2016 of Fidel Castro, and marks the beginning of major change at the top in Cuba.
Candidates may be either members of the Cuban Communist Party or not, and may also belong to trade unions or be students.
“The designation of candidates is based on merit, abilities and the commitment of the people,” Raul Castro said when he announced the elections last year.
“Nobody exchanges promises for votes, or boasts of his abilities to get supporters... This is the true and exceptional face of what we proudly call socialist democracy,” the official daily Granma wrote.

More than half of the candidates, 322, are women.
Cuba’s president is designated by a 31-member Council of State, whose head is automatically president of the country. But the Council of State first has to be selected by the National Assembly.
Castro had already announced that he would not be seeking a new term, although he is expected to remain head of the all-powerful Communist Party until 2021.
His first vice president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, 57, is widely expected to succeed him and is committed to guaranteeing continuity.
Born after the revolution, Diaz-Canel, an engineer, slowly climbed to the top rungs of Cuba’s hierarchy over a three-decade career under Raul’s mentorship.
“There will still be a president of Cuba in the process of defending the revolution,” he said in November.
Julio Cesar Guanche, a professor of law and history, said on the OnCuba website that the legitimacy of the country’s next president would come more from “institutional performance” than personal history such as involvement in the 1959 revolution.
Turnout for the election is expected to be around 90 percent. Although voting is voluntary, not voting is frowned upon and going to the polls is considered an act of sovereignty and of “revolutionary affirmation.”
The final results will be known on Monday.
Opposition criticism of the process centers around the fact that the president is not chosen in direct elections.
Cuban dissident Rosa Maria Paya, of the Cuba Decide movement, wants a referendum on modifying the island’s government system and says her group will be watching for signs “of rejection of the electoral process, in which in reality we cannot elect” anyone.
Cubans who want to demonstrate opposition typically spoil their ballots.
The Otro18 opposition movement is also calling for change.
“The citizens do not participate in the choice or the election of the president and we think it’s a decisive moment for the citizens to push a request” to change the electoral system, said Manuel Costa Morua, Otro18’s leader.

Clashes mar start of Bangladesh election campaign

Updated 6 min 11 sec ago

Clashes mar start of Bangladesh election campaign

  • Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday launched her bid to stay in office
  • The national election body wants a violence-free campaign and polling day

DHAKA: Two people have been killed in clashes as official election campaigning got underway in Bangladesh.

The country goes to the polls on Dec. 30, pitting the ruling Awami League against the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Violence left two party workers dead and injured dozens more, media reported, days into the campaign.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday launched her bid to stay in office, addressing a rally in Gopalganj district.

She told the crowd that people were not deprived if they voted for her party, they had a better life.

She said she wanted a prosperous country, free of hunger and poverty, and urged people to vote for the ruling party to maintain ongoing development projects.

Hasina is seeking a third consecutive term in office. Seeking to oust her from power is the BNP-led opposition alliance, called the Jatiya Oikya Front.

Dr. Kamal Hossain offered prayers at the shrine of Hazrat Shahjalal in the eastern city of Sylhet on Wednesday evening. Then he, along with other opposition leaders, headed toward Jaintapur district to address a mass rally.

The national election body wants a violence-free campaign and polling day, but the BNP says the playing field is not level.

The party contacted the chief election commissioner to say its leaders, supporters and activists were being harassed, attacked and arrested.

“We think the chief commissioner is helpless and embarrassed as he is unable to take any action against the crimes committed targeting BNP leaders and supporters,” the BNP’s Selima Rahman told reporters. “We hope that he (election commissioner)takes action — only then will the election be acceptable to all.”

The head of the election body, Nurul Huda, said: “The EC is deeply saddened and embarrassed for such undesired incidents… The worth of a person’s life is much greater than the entire election exercise.”

The Bangladesh Election Commission needs to play a more active role in curbing violence so that voters were not deterred, according to the body’s former chief Shakhawat Hossain.

“To keep a check on violence, the EC has clear guidelines in its code of conducts while the Representation of Public Order (RPO) has also clearly stated the duties during this period,” Hossain told Arab News.

“The EC has already formed 140 inquiry committees and deployed 250 executive magistrates to monitor the elections. In addition, it has its own officers and administrative heads ensuring smooth running of the election process,” he added.

Everything now depended on the EC, its deployment of resources and how it operated, he added.