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 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 02:45 GMT
Cuba declares socialist victory
Cuban President Fidel Castro speaks to reporters after he voted, 19 January 2003
The Cuban president said the vote was democratic
Cuba's Communist Party has declared a victory for socialism after announcing that more than 97% of voters had taken part in the country's one-party general election.

More than eight million Cubans cast a ballot in Sunday's National Assembly vote, electing 609 pro-government candidates who ran unopposed, official newspapers have reported.

We are perfecting our revolutionary and socialist democracy

Fidel Castro
The election showed "overwhelming proof of popular support for the country, revolution and socialism," said Granma, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party.

Dissidents had called on voters to hand in blank ballots, dismissing the election as a "parody" of democracy.

Cuban President Fidel Castro was re-elected to his assembly post - representing Santiago province - for his sixth five-year term since direct elections were started in 1976.

His brother and designated successor, armed forces chief Raul Castro, was also re-elected, as was Vice President Carlos Lage, National Assembly speaker Ricardo Alarcon and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque.

Other candidates included some internationally known figures, such as Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the father of Elian, a boy at the heart of a child custody battle with the United States in 2000.

Olympic track medallist Ana Fidelia Quirot and folk singer Silvio Rodriguez also stood for election.

"We are perfecting our revolutionary and socialist democracy," Mr Castro told hundreds of cheering supporters after voting in the eastern city of Santiago.

National unity

The vote was promoted by the government as an opportunity for a massive display of national unity.

Candidate descriptions in Havana
All Cubans over the age of 16 are eligible to vote
Voters were urged to tick the box on their ballot papers which enabled them to vote for all candidates at once.

Mr Castro - who has been the country's president for 44 years - has said Cuba's elections are more democratic than those of other nations, because voter turnout is higher and campaigns do not involve large amounts of money and propaganda.

Jose Luis Toledo, a National Assembly deputy who is also Dean of the University of Havana's Law School, said the elections were democratic because half the candidates were chosen at grass-roots level.

"Alongside a great scientist, there could be a sugar cane cutter or a baker," he said.

National Assembly representatives are elected for five-year terms. The newly elected members will be sworn in at the end of February.

The elected members usually meet twice a year.

Their role is principally to approve national laws which are put forward by Cuba's Council of State, led by President Castro.

  The BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Havana
"Fidel Castro described taking part in this election as a revolutionary duty"
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