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Cuba's constitution vote seen as referendum on socialism

Billboards and media have urged Cubans to vote 'yes' in Sunday's vote for a new Constitution
Billboards and media have urged Cubans to vote 'yes' in Sunday's vote for a new Constitution AFP/File

Havana (AFP)

Cuba was gearing up Friday to vote on a new constitution for the first time in decades, a poll seen as a possible referendum on the role of socialism itself in the one-party state.

More than eight million Cubans are registered to vote on Sunday on the first new charter since 1976.

Unlike in previous votes, when regime critics tended to boycott or spoil ballots, this time opponents of the Communist Party -- which has ruled since 1959 - are calling on people to vote no.

While the new charter recognizes a limited role for the free market and private investment, it maintains the central role of socialism and communism as the only way to "allow human beings to achieve their full dignity."

The vote comes at a time when US President Donald Trump has stepped up attacks on socialism, calling it "a sad and discredited ideology."

The Cuban government, which controls the media, has launched a huge campaign to push the 'yes' vote. It only needs a simple majority to pass, and has sought to portray a 'no' vote as unpatriotic.

But opponents of the regime have launched a campaign under the hashtag #YoVotoNo (#IVoteNo) on the limited social media networks available on the island, mostly sharing it on SMS text messaging.

The 1976 Constitution won 97.7 percent backing, but the campaign to push back this time could result in a significantly smaller approval rating, some analysts said, even if there is almost no chance of it being rejected.

"All this propaganda has created the image of strong pressure on people to vote yes, and that if you vote no there's something wrong with you," said Carlos Alzugaray, an academic.

"From what I can tell, if you add together the no votes, the ballot papers left blank or invalidated and the abstentions, we are somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of the total electoral roll," he said.

"That would mean only around 60 percent voted 'yes.' And the valid votes would be between 70 and 80 percent, and not at 97 percent," he added. "The country has changed."

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