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
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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.


Indian woman allegedly raped by 40 men over four days

Updated 57 sec ago
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Indian woman allegedly raped by 40 men over four days

NEW DELHI: Indian police have arrested the owner of a guesthouse and its manager after a woman alleged she was drugged and raped by some 40 men over four days, an official said Friday.
The incident is the latest in a string of sexual attack cases reported from across the country where nearly 110 rapes are reported every day, according to official figures.
In a complaint to the police, the 22-year-old woman said she was promised a job at the guesthouse in the northern state of Haryana by a person known to her.
But she was instead held captive, drugged and raped by various men over four days, senior police officer Rajendar Kumar Meena told AFP, citing the written complaint of the victim.
Three junior police officials “have been suspended for negligence and not informing senior officers about the sensitive matter,” Meena added.
Sexual violence is rife in India, with 110,333 rape cases reported in the country between 2014 and 2016.
The country’s dire record on sexual violence has been in the global spotlight since the 2012 gang-rape and murder of a woman on a New Delhi bus sparked angry protests.
The incident led to tougher sentences and reforms in the country’s rape laws but sexual crime against women, as well as against minors, remains rampant.
Indian police arrested 17 men this week for allegedly raping an 11-year-old girl over several weeks in southern city of Chennai.