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Cuba gets lowest voter turnout in socialist history as Raul Castro prepares to retire

Nora Gamez Torres, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Cuba is approaching a generational change in government amid difficult circumstances and a population less interested in politics, according to preliminary returns from Sunday's elections on the island that showed a record 17.1 percent of the voters did not participate.

The election also put First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, apparent successor to Raul Castro, under a spotlight as Castro made a low-key visit to Santiago de Cuba, where he's rumored to be planning to live after he retires as promised in April.

The legislative National Assembly of People's Power selected Sunday is scheduled to appoint the new president when it first meets on April 19.

Official but preliminary figures from Sunday's vote also show that the government could not muster the uniformity of past elections. In fact, it was the lowest voter turnout since the communist government implemented the electoral system in 1976.

Aside from the 17.1 percent who did not vote, nearly 20 percent did not fill in the "all candidates" box on the ballots, defying government and official media calls for a "united" vote.

The National Electoral Commission, or CEN, said at a news conference Monday that 94.42 percent of the votes cast were valid, compared to past elections when around 10 percent of the votes were void or blank.

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Opposition activists in the campaign Cubadecide had urged Cubans to void their ballots. But CEN officials said only 1.26 percent of the votes were voided and declared the elections "a triumph" and "a reaffirmation of the Cuban electoral system." Cubadecide is led by Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of the late opposition leader Oswaldo Paya, who was killed in a dubious car wreck in 2012.

CEN President Alina Balseiro Gutierrez said the preliminary figures could change because more than 300,000 voters were registered at the last minute. Cuba has a population of about 11.2 million people, of which nearly 9 million are eligible to vote.

Sunday's elections were for provincial councils and the 605 candidates for the 605 seats on the national legislature. There were no contested seats. The candidates were selected by the Candidates Commissions, made up of government officials and members of pro-government organizations.

The first round of voting for local councils in November already hinted at the drop in turnout. Preliminary figures put it at 85.94 percent, the lowest in four decades. Authorities later raised the figure to 89.02 percent, a slight increase over the 2015 elections.


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