The Cuban government has nominated First Vice President Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez as the sole candidate for president, guaranteeing that the 57-year-old engineer will succeed Raul Castro.
Wednesday's announcement confirms the long-held expectation that Diaz-Canel would take over from Castro in a transition meant to ensure that the country's single-party system outlasts the aging revolutionaries who created it.
The nomination must be now approved by the 604 delegates attending the National Assembly, which always approves nominations with total or near-total unanimity.
Wednesday launched the daylong process of selecting Castro's successor as president of Cuba, the centerpiece of an effort to ensure that the country's single-party system outlasts the aging revolutionaries who created it.
State media said the government would announce Castro's replacement on Thursday, installing someone from outside the Castro family in the country's highest government office for the first time in nearly six decades.
Castro entered the National Assembly just after 9 a.m. accompanied by a broadly smiling Diaz-Canel. The assembly members were sworn in, then voted for the president and vice president of the legislative body itself.
As in Cuba's legislative elections, all of the leaders being voted in on Wednesday are selected by a government-appointed commission. Ballots offer only the option of approving or disapproving the official candidate. Candidates generally receive more than 90 percent of the votes in their favor.
The National Assembly in the past has generally met and selected the president in one day. Its votes are nearly always unanimous and seen as reflecting the will of the country's top leadership.
The 86-year-old Castro is stepping down after two five-year terms. His brother Fidel was prime minister and president from 1959 until he fell ill in 2006. Although Osvaldo Dorticos was president of Cuba during Fidel Castro's time as prime minister, he was considered a figurehead beside the man who led Cuba's revolution, forged its single-party socialist system and ruled by fiat.
Diaz-Canel, 57, has long been seen as the overwhelming favorite to replace Castro, and a series of high-profile appearances on state-run television in recent days have done nothing to change that.
For most Cubans, the biggest concern is the creaking economy, as Castro’s government has implemented only a fraction of its planned market reforms, and many Cubans say they're struggling to get by.