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Cuba lawmakers meet to choose Raúl Castro's successor

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Members of Cuba’s National Assembly are holding a two-day session in Havana which will mark the end of the Castro era.

President Raúl Castro, who took over as Cuba’s president from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, will step down at the meeting.

This means no Castro will be at the helm of the country for the first time since the revolution in 1959.

The man tipped to take over is First Vice-President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

What’s happening at the session?

The National Assembly, Cuba’s legislative body, is meeting in full to swear in its 605 members, who were elected last month.

The president of the National Candidacy Committee will read out the proposed candidates for the 31-member Council of State, including the council’s president, first vice-president, its five vice-presidents and its secretary.

Members of the National Assembly will then cast their votes in secret. The votes will be counted by the National Candidacy Committee and the results are expected to be announced on Thursday, state-run newspaper Granma reported.

What’s this Council of State and why does it matter?

The Council of State is where the power really lies in Cuba. The National Assembly only meets twice a year and it is the Council of State which remains in session throughout the year and issues laws in the form of decrees.

Since 1976, when a new constitution abolished the post of president of the republic, the president of the Council of State has been the head of state and government of Cuba.

So whoever is elected president of the Council of State is top dog?

Whoever is chosen by the National Assembly in its two-day session will be Cuba’s new president, yes.

Is the Castro era definitely over then?

It will be the first time that a Castro has not been at the helm of the country either as prime minister or as president of the Council of State since 1959.

Having said that, Raúl Castro is going to stay on in his post of first secretary of the Communist Party until 2021.

Analysts say that while the new president is likely to look after the day-to-day decisions, Raúl Castro will remain a powerful influence and is likely to have the last word on wider policies.

Read more about the Castros:

Who will be the new president?

The man most widely expected to be elected as president is the current First Vice-President, Miguel Díaz-Canel.

The 57 year old has been working alongside Raúl Castro for the past five years and was hand-picked by him as his first vice-president. But there have been no official statements made to indicate that he will succeed President Castro.

Other candidates could emerge, such as Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, who played a significant role in negotiating the thaw in US-Cuban relations that occurred under President Barack Obama, or Mercedes López, who is the first secretary of the powerful Communist Party of Havana.

How democratic is the election?

Cuba has long maintained that it has one of the most inclusive and fairest election systems in the world, but critics say that assertion is laughable as the process is fully overseen by the ruling Communist Party.

Yes, eight million Cubans turned out to vote for members of the National Assembly in March, and those lawmakers will choose the president.

But the 605 pre-selected National Assembly candidates stood unopposed. That is why many critics see the National Assembly as little more than a rubber-stamp body.

Will a new president bring any change?

Whoever leads the country next is unlikely to make any major changes in the short term, especially as long as Raúl Castro remains a political force to be reckoned with.

Any changes are likely to be gradual and slow-paced. Having said that, Raúl Castro did bring in reforms after he took over as president, most strikingly the thaw in relations with the US which seemed unthinkable under his brother Fidel.

The new leader will have to consider how to overcome the problems caused by the economic collapse of Cuba’s ally, Venezuela, and what kind of relationship the Caribbean island wants with the US under Donald Trump.

But what most Cubans will judge the new leader on is whether their day-to-day lives improve.

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