A woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Havana, Cuba, on Nov. 26, 2017. Cubans started to cast their ballots at polling stations as municipal elections kicked off in the Caribbean nation on Sunday, marking the first step towards a general election to choose incumbent President Raul Castro's successor. (Xinhua/Str)
HAVANA, Nov. 26 (Xinhua)-- Cubans started to cast their ballots at polling stations as municipal elections kicked off in the Caribbean nation on Sunday, marking the first step towards a general election to choose incumbent President Raul Castro's successor.
Over 24,000 polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time (1200 GMT) across the country, allowing Cubans to elect delegates to 168 municipal assemblies from among 27,221 candidates, said local media.
The first phase of the general election process, previously scheduled for Oct. 22, was delayed as a result of the damage caused to this Caribbean nation by Hurricane Irma early this month.
This time, the polls are being followed with particular attention, since the process will conclude in February with the approximately 600 members of the newly-formed legislative assembly electing the nation's top leader when the second five-year term of Raul Castro ends in February 2018.
After voting near his home, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, vice-president and second secretary of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, congratulated electoral authorities.
"In general, it has been a high quality process, which is developing satisfactorily, despite the effects caused by Hurricane Irma, which forced the schedule to be modified," said Machado.
He added the elected municipal deputies will face many important challenges, since they will have to work in the midst of adverse economic conditions and the reinforcement of the U.S. embargo against the island.
After voting, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told reporters that the Cuban electoral process represents an alternative to "other electoral processes ruled by money and corporations."
In Cuba, candidates are forbidden from actual political campaigning, with only their photos and biographies exhibited for voters to select.
The local elections came a day after the first anniversary of the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who put into force in 1976 the current political electoral system, defended by the Cuban authorities as "democratic and transparent."
"The participation of the people in the municipal elections, is a tribute to the Commander in Chief on the first anniversary of his physical disappearance," said Natalia Ricardo, president of a polling station in the municipality of Playa.
"Although Fidel Castro is not with us today, his legacy and the values he instilled in the people will persist forever," Ricardo said, "Going to the polls is contributing to the country and revolution."
Nearly 2.5 million Cubans had voted by 9 a.m. local time (1400 GMT), said Maria Bacallao, secretary of the National Electoral Commission.
Cuba holds municipal elections every two and a half years, while provincial and national deputies are elected for five-year terms.