Saturday, October 27, 2007

Cuba announces big turnout, says few blank ballots were cast in municipal elections

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press

Published: October 26, 2007

HAVANA: Fewer than 4 percent of voters cast blank ballots in last weekend's municipal elections, Cuban election officials said Friday, suggesting that a form of protest promoted by U.S. exile groups gained little traction on the island.

Nearly 8.2 million people, or 96 percent of registered voters, participated in municipal elections on Oct. 21, beginning an election cycle that ends next year when legislators decide whether to keep ailing leader Fidel Castro atop the island's main governing body.

Critics say Cuban elections are undemocratic because Communist Party candidates almost always win. While the island's constitution recognizes only one political party, membership is not required to run for municipal assembly seats, which were up for grabs last week.

Miami-based Cuban exile groups had urged voters to protest one-party government by casting blank ballots, since abstaining can draw unwanted attention in neighborhoods where Revolutionary Defense Committees keep tabs on residents.

National Electoral Commission Maria Esther Reus said only about 321,000 votes, or 4 percent, were blank.

Reus did not specify how many of Sunday's winners are Communist Party members, but she said fewer than two-thirds of all candidates who ran belong to the party.

The vote was the island's first since Castro, 81, underwent a series of emergency intestinal surgeries in July 2006, temporarily ceding power to his younger brother Raul.

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