Cuban Assembly to choose Castro successor

( dpa )- Cuba is set to find out Sunday who will be its next formal ruler, after nearly half-a-century under charismatic revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

Raul Castro - who has already been standing in for his brother since he "temporarily" gave up power on July 31, 2006 to recover from surgery for an unspecified intestinal problem - remained the favourite to formally succeed Fidel at the country's presidency.

However, the decision will be up to the communist country's National Assembly, at least in theory, in accordance with Cuba's sui generis electoral process.

Sunday's meeting will formalize a historic moment: the beginning of an era without Fidel Castro, 81, and the consolidation of power in a younger generation.

Indeed, 70 per cent of all Cubans had not known another ruler until the bearded leader fell ill 19 months ago, and more than 60 per cent of the newly-elected legislators were born after Castro's revolution in 1959.

The 614 members of the legislature - including both Fidel and Raul Castro - were elected in January and are set to open the body's first session at 10 am (1500 GMT) Sunday at the Palacio de Convenciones in Havana.

During the meeting, legislators are to pick the 31 members of the Council of State, according to a pre-set list given them by a nominating commission and drawn from members of the National Assembly.

This list is not made public prior to the vote, but the names are identified as candidates for specific offices. One of the candidates is usually designated as a presidential candidate - in this case, most likely Raul Castro - and that person becomes head of state and head of government.

Terms are for five years.

Fidel Castro, who led the Cuban revolution to success in early 1959, will not be a candidate for the top position, for the first time since the process was instituted in 1976.

The ailing Castro announced Tuesday in the Communist Party daily Granma that he will no longer hold formal power on the island.

"I will neither aspire to nor accept, I repeat, I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief," Castro said.

"It would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer. This I say devoid of all drama," he wrote.

Before the vote for the head of state, the legislators are to be sworn into office and also elect their own speaker, deputy speaker and secretary.

The all-important Council of State represents the National Assembly between its two annual periods of sessions and "holds the supreme representation of the Cuban state" under Cuban law.

The list of candidates for the posts of president, first vice president, five further vice presidents, secretary and 23 other members is drawn up by the National Commission of Candidacies, after a "broad" round or consultation among the National Assembly.

The selection commission is made up of social groups and workers' organizations, which are generally related to the Communist Party.

Critics often question the way the lists are drawn up and complain that "consultations" are too secretive.

Legislators are to accept (or reject, technically) the list of candidates with a show of hands, and then to cast "secret and direct" votes on the individual candidates for the various offices. To be elected to a position, a candidate should obtain over 50 per cent of the valid votes.

Most observers expect Raul Castro to be the new president of the Council of State, although his age, 76, is a drawback. Other possible candidates are Vice President Carlos Lage, National Assembly Speaker Ricardo Alarcon and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque.

Raul Castro, or whoever gets to succeed Fidel at the top post in the Cuban hierarchy, is to address the National Assembly at the end of the process on Sunday.

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