HAVANA – Electoral authorities in Cuba, where the Communist Party is the only legal political organization, offered a defense Monday of the island’s system to elect legislators who will be tasked early next year with choosing a successor to President Raul Castro.
“There is great ignorance about the Cuban electoral system,” National Electoral Commission chair Alina Balseiro said during a news conference with the foreign press.
“I can assure you that our system has greater strengths and functions – principles like no other, with much more validity – that achieve total democracy,” she said.
Cubans are set to head to the polls Oct. 22 for elections to municipal assemblies. The commission has yet to fix the dates for elections to provincial legislatures and the national parliament.
Raul Castro, who took the reins from ailing older brother Fidel in July 2006, has said that he will step down in February and it will be the 612 members of the National Assembly who choose Cuba’s next president.
The voting age in Cuba is 16, while 18 is the minimum age to seek public office.
Any Cuban citizen who “fulfills the requirements” can be a candidate, Balseiro said, stressing that prospective councilors and lawmakers are chosen by their neighbors at district assemblies.
Opposition groups, however, say that office-seekers who aren’t affiliated with the Communist Party or officially sanctioned social organizations suffer harassment which often takes the form of the leveling of groundless criminal charges as a way of disqualifying their candidacies.
The upcoming ballot will be Cuba’s first elections since Fidel Castro died on Nov. 25, 2016.