2 opposition candidates defeated in Cuba vote

2015-04-20 18:47

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Havana - Two Cuban opposition candidates failed on Sunday to become the island's first non-Communist elected officials in decades.

Though they were defeated in local polls, Hildebrando Chaviano, a 65-year old lawyer and independent journalist, and Yuniel Lopez, a 26-year old computer scientist, had made history by surviving the first round of balloting and making it to the final vote.

They were the only two non-Communist candidates among 30,000 people running for local office in Sunday's elections.

The dissidents had hoped to become the first officials elected from outside the all-powerful Communist Party since Cuba's electoral law was put in place under former president Fidel Castro in 1976.

In their official electoral biographies, Chaviano and Lopez were described as "counter-revolutionaries", and there was no mention of them or their parties in state-controlled media.

Election victory by either man could have been seen as a sign that the all-powerful Communist Party is loosening its grip on power, as it aims to normalize ties with the United States.

The elections followed a historic announcement by Washington and Havana in December of a rapprochement, boosting trade and easing travel after five decades of hostility.

US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro met in Panama this month - the first face-to-face talks between US and Cuban leaders since 1956.

Cuba is also in talks to renew ties with several European governments.

Political 'loophole'

Cuba, the only one-party Communist regime in the Americas, still officially bars all political parties other than the Communist Party of Cuba in its constitution.

The candidates were selected by a show-of-hands vote in their neighbourhoods.

Chaviano downplayed the idea there may have been any political easing on the government's part.

"We simply slipped through a loophole," Chaviano said.

But he told AFP his selection might be a sign that Cubans are feeling slightly more confident about straying from the Communist mainstream.

His fellow trailblazer, Lopez, accused the government of campaigning against him.

"They went around house to house, telling people not to vote for a counter-revolutionary," Lopez told AFP.

Revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, 88, cast his ballot at home, handing it to election officials who deposited it into a ballot box for waiting television cameras.

His brother Raul Castro, 83, voted at a polling station in Havana, chatting with schoolkids and neighbors.

Castro said he will not seek reelection in 2018. He could be succeeded by Communist Party vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel.

More than eight million Cubans of voting age were called on to vote, with more than 12,000 municipal posts to be filled.

The National Electoral Commission billed the vote as an act of "genuine democracy" that would let Cubans build a more just society without meddling from abroad.

A Cuban state council official said the elections showed the country's commitment to its revolution and noted that they coincide with the anniversary of the failed US-backed invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

The United States recently expressed concern over what it called the "violent silencing" of dissidents in Cuba, and American lawmakers have said Washington will continue to push Cuba on its human rights record.

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