HAVANA – Raul Castro confirmed on Thursday that he will step down as Cuba’s president on April 21, 2018.
“When the (new) National Assembly takes form, I will have concluded my second and final mandate as the head of state and government and Cuba will have a new president,” the 86-year-old Castro told lawmakers in a speech before the plenary session of the National Assembly of Popular Power broadcast on state-run media.
Castro has defended the need for a new generation to take over the island’s leadership and on numerous occasions has said that he would step down as president when his second term ended.
Earlier on Thursday, the Cuban Parliament approved extending the current legislative session by some two months after the as yet unscheduled general elections until April 19, 2018, after which it is expected that President Raul Castro will step down.
The measure, proposed by the Council of State – the country’s top decision-making body – was approved due to the “exceptional situation” caused by the passage of Hurricane Irma last September, a storm that killed 10 people on the island and caused some $13 million in material damage.
The first phase of the electoral process, the municipal elections set for October, was already postponed for the same reason.
According to the Cuban Constitution, a legislative session may only be extended “by agreement of the Assembly itself due to war or by virtue of other exceptional circumstances that may impede the normal holding of elections and so long as such circumstances persist.”
According to what the National Assembly of Popular Power, the island’s unicameral legislature, approved in its second and last plenary session of the year – which was scheduled to end on Feb. 24, 2018 – the current provincial assemblies will also be extended until March 25, as per a report by the state-run Cuban News Agency.
The general elections are arousing great interest, given that the next legislative session will be the first time in six decades that the Cuban presidency will not be held by someone named Castro, 40 years of that period being under the government of Fidel, who died in 2016 at age 90 but was succeeded in 2006 by younger brother Raul.
The electoral process – including the holding of municipal, regional and general elections – kicked off on Nov. 26 with the balloting for municipal delegates, with 7.6 million Cubans being called to the polls, according to official figures.
Although the date for the general election has not yet been set, the new Parliament will ratify the country’s new president on April 19, and it is anticipated that current First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, 57, will succeed Castro.