Cubans vote in suspense-free polls

Cubans on Sunday elected members of the National Assembly, one in a series of votes leading up to the communist island's all but certain re-election later this month of President Raul Castro.

Opponents of the Marxist regime deride the balloting as a farce, noting that the number of candidates vying for office is identical to the number of open seats, leaving no doubt about the outcome.

Candidates include the 81 year-old president and his older brother, 86 year-old former president Fidel Castro, who left office due to bad health in 2006.

Cuba portrays its electoral system as a grass-roots democracy, but there is only one legal party -- the Communist Party -- and no campaigning is allowed. No dissident has ever been allowed to run for office.

While Cuba's electoral system "is different," said Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez after voting, "it is much more democratic than the majority of those that I know."

State TV news showed Raul Castro casting his ballot and talking to voters in the town of Mayari Arriba, in eastern Santiago de Cuba.

Even though more than 90 percent of the island's eight million voters are expected to turn out, the exercise "is a farce," former political prisoner Oscar Espinosa Chepe told AFP.

Another prominent opposition figure, Elizardo Sanchez, called the election "a race with only one horse" -- since only the Communist party is running.

If Castro is re-elected as president later this month -- and there is no doubt that he will be -- it would be his second five-year mandate as leader.

In 2011 Castro proposed that all top posts would be limited to two five-year terms, meaning he will have to retire in 2018, at age 86.

Voters will also elect 1,269 candidates to 15 provincial assemblies.