HAVANA (AP) – Millions of Cubans elected municipal assemblies across the communist-run island Sunday in local elections President Fidel Castro defended as “the most democratic in the world.”

After voting at a Havana school, Castro told journalists that Cuban elections are impartial and free of fraud.

“This election is the most democratic in the world, there is no doubt,” Castro said. “No other country has a system like this.”

More than 8 million Cubans on Sunday were electing 169 municipal assemblies across the island in elections that take place every 21/2 years.

Under Cuba’s one-party system, city and provincial leaders, as well as representatives of the National Assembly, are elected by citizens on a local level. Anyone can be nominated to these posts, including non-members of the island’s ruling communist party – the only one recognized in Cuba’s constitution.

The island’s top leader, however, is not elected directly by citizens to the post of president. Representatives of the National Assembly nominate, then elect the president.

In Old Havana, voting sites were set up at schools and office buildings every few blocks. Signs saying “Vote early,” and “Choose the best and most capable,” were set up outside the booths alongside candidates’ resumes.

Resumes included a photograph and listed age, marital status, education and experience of the candidates. Membership in the communist party was often included.

Cuba consistently defends its system as democratic, but critics of Castro’s government argue that tight state control, a heavy police presence and neighborhood-watch groups that report on their neighbors prevent any real political freedom on the island.

Parliament Speaker Ricardo Alarcon said Cuba’s electoral process was “superior to the multiparty system,” arguing that it was real pluralism.

“In other words, everyone within society can nominate whoever they want, and then make up their own minds,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Anne-Maria Garcia and Andrea Rodriguez in Havana contributed to this report.


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