Cubans head to the polls, all eyes on voter turnout

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Cubans began voting early on Sunday for the 470 lawmakers who will represent them in the country´s National Assembly in a closely watched election, seen as a referendum on the communist-run government at a time of deep economic crisis.

Voting centres in the capital Havana opened at 7 a.m. ET and bustled with activity as citizens arrived to cast ballots at the city’s share of more than 23,000 official ballot sites throughout the country.

Cuba´s government, saddled by shortages, inflation and growing social unrest, has encouraged unity in Sunday´s vote, calling on citizens to vote together in a broad show of support for the communist leadership.

Havana resident, Humberto Avila says he will likely sit out Sunday’s legislative elections.

Ana Lydia Velazquez, a 78-year old retired Havana resident, speaks about a message that resonated with her.

“I believe all Cubans should go to vote, to help our country improve, and advance,” she said. “We are going through a critical situation and we all have to pitch in.” says Velazquez.

Anti-government forces, primarily off-island in a country that restricts dissident political speech, have encouraged the opposite, calling on Cubans to abstain and labeling the election a “farce.”

Cuban President, Miguel Diaz-Canel, who voted in his hometown of Santa Clara just after sunrise on Sunday, said the people would have the last word.

Diaz-Canel adds, “Some people may put the difficult economic situation ahead of their willingness to vote, but I don´t think it will be a majority.

The 470 candidates on Sunday´s paper ballot are vying for 470 open seats. There are no opposition candidates.

A high rate of abstention would not have any immediate impact on the election´s outcome, as the winners of the contest must receive more than half the votes of those who choose to cast ballots.