(Havana) Cubans began renewing their National Assembly for the next five years on Sunday in an unsurprising ballot, with 470 candidates running for 470 seats, but the issue will be the rising abstention rate constant in recent years.

Eight million voters are called upon to ratify the 470 candidates, 263 women and 207 men, mostly members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC, unique), destined to occupy the 470 seats of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

The approximately 23,000 polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time and will close at 6 p.m.

In Cuba, voting is not compulsory. But opposition is forbidden.

Voters have two options on their ballot: tick the name of one or more candidates in the constituency or tick the “vote for all” option which implies support for all 470 candidates.

Half of these candidates were nominated by the current deputies. The others were appointed by municipal commissions.

Among them are President Miguel Diaz-Canel, 62, and former leader Raul Castro, 91.

This election comes at a time when Cuba is going through its worst economic crisis in more than 30 years, with galloping inflation and an unprecedented wave of migration, under the combined effect of the consequences of the pandemic, the strengthening of the American embargo and the weaknesses structural economics of the country.

Voter turnout has steadily declined in recent years, reaching 68.5% in the November municipal elections, the lowest since the electoral system came into force in 1976. It was 74% during the September referendum on the Family Code, and 90% in the referendum on the Constitution in 2019.

In the weeks leading up to the polls, candidates, including President Diaz-Canel, waged an unusual grassroots campaign to listen to Cuban grievances.

“With joy, let’s go to victory on March 26,” the head of state tweeted on Friday, using the slogan “I vote for all”.

Deprived of a candidate, the opposition called for abstention on social networks. “Don’t participate in this prank. Don’t vote Sunday,” the “Cuba says NO to dictatorship” tweeted.

During the year, the candidate for the presidency will be chosen among the deputies and elected by this same assembly. Miguel Diaz-Canel, the first president to lead the country after the years in power of the brothers Fidel and Raul Castro, should be a candidate for re-election for a second and final term.