Raul Castro elected Cuban president amid little change

February 25th, 2008 - 10:24 am ICT by admin  

Havana, Feb 25 (DPA) Raul Castro has succeeded his brother Fidel Castro as Cuban head of state, National Assembly Speaker Ricardo Alarcon has confirmed. Raul Castro, 76, was the only nominee for the post of president of the communist island’s Council of State, one legislator told DPA.

In his first speech as president Sunday, Raul Castro stressed that the new membership of the Council of State is a sign of the will “to keep strengthening the revolution, at a historic time that demands leaders who are dialectical and creative”.

To be elected to the posts, nominees needed to obtain at least 50 percent of the votes cast by the National Assembly.

The 614-member assembly was elected Jan 20 and includes the Castro brothers and elected members of the country’s 31-member Council of State, the president of which serves as Cuba’s head of state and government.

Raul Castro, Cuba’s long-time defence minister, had been considered the favourite to lead Cuba ahead of Sunday’s vote, particularly after Fidel Castro made it clear Tuesday that he would be standing down from the leadership position he had held for decades.

Sunday, Raul Castro was in attendance at the first session of the new legislature at the Palacio de Convenciones in Havana, wearing a dark suit and tie.

Although his election as president of the Council of State had been expected, many observers noted there was a surprise in the post of first vice president.

Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 76, a member of the country’s “revolutionary old guard” and a vice president until Sunday, was elected to replace Raul Castro, in what many saw as a sign that few changes are in store. Many had expected the post to go to reform-minded Carlos Lage, 56.

Ricardo Alarcon was elected National Assembly speaker for a fourth consecutive term. This designation, too, was interpreted as a likely sign that things will remain basically unchanged in Cuba, despite Fidel Castro’s exit.

Ailing Cuban president Fidel Castro, 81, said earlier this week that he would neither “aspire to” nor accept the country’s leadership for a further five-year term.

Before formally stepping down Sunday, the ailing Castro had led Cuba for 49 years, though he had “temporarily” ceded power to Raul since July 2006, after undergoing surgery for an unspecified but serious intestinal condition.

Fidel Castro took part in the process to elect his successor from the secret location where he is recovering.

Two members of the outgoing Council of State had visited “comrade Fidel” to validate his election certificate as legislator and take his oath. They also took, in a sealed envelope, the slips for Fidel Castro “to exercise his right to vote,” National Electoral Commission President Maria Esther Reus said Sunday.

The move was approved by the new National Assembly amid applause at the beginning of the session.

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