Two dissident candidates conceded defeat Sunday in Cuban local elections that offered them a chance to become the first officials elected from outside the Communist Party in 40 years. Hildebrando Chaviano and Yuniel Lopez had been chosen as candidates by a show of hands in Havana neighborhood nominating meetings and hoped to win two of the 12,589 seats at stake in 168 municipal councils. Both acknowledged they had no chance of winning after preliminary results showed Chaviano in last place of four candidates and one of Lopez’s pro-government opponent with twice his vote. Chaviano, 65, is a government attorney-turned-independent journalist and Lopez, 26, is an unemployed member of a dissident political party.
A win by either would have been symbolically significant. Outside observers said the fact that they made it past a first round of show-of-hands voting on the neighborhood level reflected a government desire to show at least the appearance of softening its monolithic control of the political system in the wake of presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro historic announcement last year that they were declaring detente after 50 years of Cold War enmity.
The dissidents and foreign press watched the vote-counting without incident, although Lopez complained that he hadn’t been able to watch the full count in one polling place. He also said that government backers had pressured people in his neighborhood to vote against him.
Cuba’s municipal elections allow direct voting for delegates to municipal assemblies that deal with local issues like sewers and street repairs. The government controls the nomination and selection of candidates for higher-level bodies including the national assembly, which at least nominally chooses top national officials.