Father of Elian Gonzalez elected to Cuba's parliament

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

HAVANA -- More than 97 percent of Cuba's voters elected all 609 candidates who ran uncontested for parliament, including the father of Elian Gonzalez, Cuba's elections officials said Monday.

The Communist Party said the massive voter turnout showed "overwhelming proof of popular support for the nation, the revolution and socialism."

But leading dissidents called the process a farce and had encouraged voters to protest by abstaining, annulling their ballots or leaving them blank.

Juan Miguel Gonzalez, father of Elian, the Cuban boy at the heart of the international child custody battle in 2000, was elected, as was folk singer Silvio Rodriguez.

Cubans also voted for provincial assemblies, and all 1,199 candidates who ran unopposed for 14 provincial bodies also were elected, said Juan Vela, president of the National Electoral Commission.

The final accounting of Sunday's voter turnout was slightly down from the more than 98 percent of registered voters who cast ballots in general elections five years ago.

Three percent of ballots were deposited blank, while less than 1 percent were spoiled, Vela said. Blank or spoiled ballots can be, but are not necessarily always, a sign of protest.

More valid votes

There was a smaller percentage of blank or spoiled votes than during the 1998 elections. According to news reports at the time, 5 percent of the ballots were blank or spoiled in 1998. In 1993, more than 7 percent were blank or spoiled in 1993.

"Our people know what they want," Vela said. "There are more valid votes, if you want to know what our people are like."

President Fidel Castro, who voted in the eastern city of Santiago, said "We are perfecting our revolutionary and socialist democracy."

Castro maintains that Cuba's elections are more democratic than those of most nations because candidates here do not spend huge amounts of money on campaigns. The only pre-campaign publicity are the biographies of the candidates, posted on walls in public places.

All Cubans over 16 can vote, and though it is not obligatory, pressure to participate is high.

Castro was among candidates seeking re-election to the National Assembly. He has led Cuba for 44 years, initially as premier and now as president.

Parliament's duties include approving laws proposed by Cuba's ruling Council of State, headed by Castro. It also reconfirms Castro's presidency on the council in the weeks after the general elections.

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