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Tuesday, January 13, 1998 Published at 13:12 GMT

World: Americas

Cuban elections reaffirm socialist identity
image: [ President Fidel Castro is saluted by pioneer scouts as he casts his vote in the Cuban elections ]
President Fidel Castro is saluted by pioneer scouts as he casts his vote in the Cuban elections

The Cuban government is reporting a 98 turnout for the the country's elections - even athough there was no choice of candidates.

The President of the National Electoral Commission Manuel de Jesus Pirez told a news conference that 7.93 million people voted on Sunday out of a total of 8.06 million eligible voters. Some 5.01% of the votes were not valid because they were blank or annulled.

All 601 candidates proposed for the national assembly were elected unopposed.

Electors were also asked to endorse a list of 1,192 candidates for provincial assemblies. Again no alternative to the ruling Communist Party was on offer.

The massive voter turnout follows a pattern of very high participation in Cuba's single party elections. Voting is not mandatory in Cuba, but it is presented by authorities as a moral and patriotic duty.

One person, one vote, one candidate

[ image: State-run media has urged Cubans to vote even though their is no choice of candidates]
State-run media has urged Cubans to vote even though their is no choice of candidates
There are no known opponents of Castro or the government among the newly-elected candidates, who were proposed by special candidacy commissions formed by members of pro-government organisations representing farmers, students and other social groups.

Despite the lack of choice, the Cuban government mounted a huge campaign urging people to vote.

With the Pope's visit only days away, Havana is already filled with US media, so the election was marketed as a means of demonstrating unity against the United States and its economic blockade of Cuba.

Cuban media reflected the view of President Castro that Cuban democracy is the most perfect in the world and a system other countries should emulate.

Reports often contrasted Cuban elections with the United States. Cuban television is even showing the US feature film "Candidates", starring Robert Redford, which depicts corruption in the US electoral system.

[ image: President Castro: in power since the 1959 revolution]
President Castro: in power since the 1959 revolution
There has been considerable coverage of the financial crisis in the Far East, with predictions that capitalism has no future.

After casting his own vote President Castro hailed the high turnout. He said his country was not changing but was reaffirming its socialist identity in a predominantly capitalist world.

"It's the world that's changing, not Cuba," the 71-year-old Cuban leader told reporters.

A BBC correspondent in Havana said that despite the turnout, President Fidel Castro is coming under increasing pressure from other Latin American leaders to allow greater pluralism.

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