Cuban President Raul Castro on Sunday voted alongside thousands of people in municipal elections that kick off the process to end his family's hold on the island nation.
The Communist Party-supervised process comes a day after the first anniversary of Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s death.
Though no opposition candidates were competing in Sunday's elections for more than 12,500 council seats, voters could still choose among 30,000 candidates named by acclamation in neighborhood assemblies.
The municipal vote, Cuba’s only direct election, is the beginning of a strictly controlled process to eventually choose leaders in higher government positions. A February election for provincial and national assembly deputies is expected to decide who will succeed Raul Castro as president.
Campaigning in Cuba is prohibited. Candidates for ward post are chosen based on merits; not on policy agendas. They are nominated at neighborhood meetings.
The Castro brothers have headed the government since the 1959 revolution led by Fidel.
Current first Vice President Migel Diaz-Canel is expected to replace 86-year-old Raul who succeeded the ailing Fidel as president in 2008. But Sunday Diaz-Canel would not contemplate the future.
“I think today is not the day to talk about that. Today, we are feeling much more sublime things. There will always be presidents in Cuba, defending the revolution, and they will be comrades who come from the people. The people will elect them. And they will have to go through this process,” he said. “Today is the day to talk about what we are doing here. Today is the day to talk about Fidel,” he added after casting his ballot.
Voter Marisela Quesada said, "I'm telling you from my heart. I am a revolutionary until the end but I would like my president Raul [Castro] to continue. I would like him to continue, yes,” she said.
“In my life, I wouldn't want any other because things are still being done like when there was his brother [referring to Fidel Castro]. Everything is still the same. Everything is good. I feel good,” she said.
A voter, who requested anonymity due to her government position, told Reuters there is an ongoing discussion on reforming the electoral process.
“I am happy to vote, but I must say, like most young people I do not think it makes any difference,” she said.
Castro is expected to remain the leader of the all-powerful Communist Party. He would be 90 when his current term ends in 2021.
Results from today’s election are expected Monday. Ballots are secret and more than eight million people were eligible to vote.