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Cuban Elections to Determine Fidel Castro's Future

Cuba has set January 20 as the date for national elections that will determine whether ailing leader Fidel Castro will remain the island's president. In Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports the vote may confirm the transfer of power to Fidel's brother, Raul Castro.

State-run television announced the decision by Cuba's interim leader Raul Castro to hold elections on January 20. The voting is held every five years to select the 609 members of the National Assembly as well as delegates to provincial bodies. Individuals must first be elected to the National Assembly to be eligible to serve on Cuba's Council of State, which is led by the president.

The question is whether ailing leader Fidel Castro will seek re-election to the National Assembly after temporarily handing power to his brother, Raul, 16 months ago. The 81-year-old Fidel has not been seen in public since undergoing stomach surgery in July of last year.

Uva De Aragon, associate director of the Cuba Research Institute at Florida International University, says the vote may confirm what many observers have been expecting.

De Aragon says the January vote may serve to formalize the unofficial changes that have been happening in Cuba's leadership, and confirm the transfer of power from Fidel to Raul Castro.

Cuban officials have not commented on a future presidential transition, which would mark the end of Fidel Castro's more than four decades in power.

Since taking over, Raul Castro has been criticized for announcing few changes to address an economic decline and political concerns on the island.

De Aragon says a formal transfer of power could embolden Raul to begin tackling the problems.

She says, if elected president, Raul Castro would begin to make the changes that Cuban people have been expecting.

De Aragon says many Cubans are hoping for economic reforms to end an economic slump, and few expect to see a political opening in the Communist system in the short term.

Local elections were held last month.

The U.S. State Department has expressed concern that candidates in past elections were chosen through unions and other groups controlled by the Communist leadership.