Dis­si­dents stir as Cas­tro era nears end

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

HA­VANA: Op­po­nents of the Cuban gov­ern­ment are putting for­ward an un­prece­dented num­ber of can­di­dates for mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions in late Oc­to­ber, the first step in a process to select a new pres­i­dent af­ter nearly 60 years of the Cas­tro broth­ers’ rule.

The elec­toral cy­cle comes at a tricky time for the Caribbean na­tion as the Cas­tros’ revo­lu­tion­ary generation dies off, an eco­nomic re­form pro­gram ap­pears stalled, aid from key ally Venezuela shrinks, and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion threat­ens.

The mu­nic­i­pal vote, the only part of the elec­toral process with direct par­tic­i­pa­tion by or­di­nary Cubans, is ex­pected to at­tract 35,000 can­di­dates for the is­land’s 168 mu­nic­i­pal as­sem­blies. It will be fol­lowed by pro­vin­cial and na­tional assem­bly elec­tions in which can­di­dates are se­lected from slates by com­mis­sions.

The new na­tional assem­bly will in late Fe­bru­ary select a suc­ces­sor to Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro, 86, who has an­nounced he will step aside af­ter two terms.

Raul, younger brother and suc­ces­sor to Fidel Cas­tro who died in Novem­ber, will re­tain a grip on power as head of the Com­mu­nist Party, the only le­gal party in Cuba.

The elec­tions are be­ing cast in state-run me­dia as a show of sup­port for the Cas­tros’ 1959 rev­o­lu­tion rather than an op­por­tu­nity to de­bate press­ing is­sues.

Cam­paign­ing is pro­hib­ited and can­di­dates for the 12,515 ward del­e­gate po­si­tions are nom­i­nated at neigh­bour­hood meet­ings based on their per­sonal mer­its. They need not be­long to the Com­mu­nist Party and many can­di­dates are in­de­pen­dents but only few gov­ern­ment op­po­nents have ever com­peted.

Dur­ing the last elec­tion, the three dis­si­dents nom­i­nated lost at the polls.

This year one coali­tion of op­po­si­tion groups, Otro18 (Other18), says it is run­ning more than 160 can­di­dates in the mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions, de­mand­ing elec­toral re­form and gov­ern­ment trans­parency.

“This is un­heard of,” said Boris Gon­za­lez, 41, one of the as­pir­ing Otro18 can­di­dates, ex­plain­ing they wanted to chal­lenge the Com­mu­nist Party from within the sys­tem.

Otro18 spokesman Manuel Cuesta Morua said in an in­ter­view that its can­di­dates had faced ha­rass­ment and threats by state se­cu­rity forces for months and had been warned not to par­tic­i­pate. The gov­ern­ment has not re­sponded to these ac­cu­sa­tions.

The Com­mu­nist Party says it does not in­ter­vene in the elec­tions, but a video cir­cu­lat­ing on so­cial me­dia of First VicePres­i­dent Miguel Diaz-Canel, Raul Cas­tro’s prob­a­ble suc­ces­sor, sug­gested oth­er­wise.

“There are six ini­tia­tives for the 2018 elec­tions that seek to pro­pose coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies as can­di­dates,” Mr Di­azCanel told Com­mu­nist Party cadres in the video. “We are tak­ing steps to dis­credit all.”

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