Cuba election set to break Castro ties

Cuba's legislative elections on Sunday will pave the way for a new president to succeed Raul Castro.
Cuba's legislative elections on Sunday will pave the way for a new president to succeed Raul Castro.

Cuba's legislative elections on Sunday are poised for the first time in six decades to deliver a non-Castro as leader.

More than eight million Cubans will elect the 605 members of the National Assembly and 1265 delegates to 15 provincial assemblies.

Interest in the polls is even greater than usual, with the new parliament due to convene on April 19 to elect a successor to 86-year-old President Raul Castro.

The new president is expected to be the first not to belong to the Castro family since the 1959 revolution, after which Raul's older brother Fidel took power.

"It really arouses curiosity to find out what the new president will be like," said Havana taxi driver Ernesto Balan.

"We have always had leaders with strong personalities and presence, (but) we don't know the new one yet."

Raul Castro took over provisionally when his brother's health deteriorated in 2006, then officially became president in 2008. Fidel died in 2016 aged 90.

Raul Castro announced last year that he would not seek a third term in office. His successor is widely expected to be current Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, 57, an engineer who previously served as education minister.

"Nobody has said he will be the next president, but we think so, because Raul has given him the most prominent role in recent years," said a retired woman queueing at a Havana pharmacy.

Despite belonging to a post-revolution generation, Diaz-Canel is deemed unlikely to introduce far-reaching new freedoms and reforms.

Not only is he known as an advocate for continuity, but he may be limited by the presence of Castro, who will head the Communist Party until at least its next congress in 2021.

Castro is also seeking a seat in parliament and is expected to continue to wield influence in the army.

His government introduced economic reforms that allowed more people to run small businesses, but heavy restrictions on private entrepreneurship remain in place.

Dissent is repressed to the extent that some Cubans will discuss politics with a foreigner only in a park out of earshot of others.

But many Cubans also say they appreciate the revolution's achievements, including free education and health care as well as low-cost housing.

Havana is a safe city where homeless people or beggars are rarely seen.

The economy has been recovering from the 2016 recession, growing at an estimated 1.6 per cent in 2017, driven mainly by agriculture and tourism.

But life remains a struggle for many Cubans earning very low salaries and struggling to find foodstuffs and other basic goods that can suddenly disappear from the market due to production bottlenecks.

Australian Associated Press