Cubans votes in new legislature; president, parliament chief to be picked later this month

Cubans are voting on a slate of candidates for parliament in the second stage of an electoral process that culminates later this month.

More than 8 million islanders are eligible to vote and will approve 612 members of the National Assembly and over 1,600 provincial delegates.

Voting began last year with municipal elections. Parliament will convene Feb. 24 and pick a new parliament chief for the first time in two decades, with the body's longtime leader Ricardo Alarcon not on the ballot. It is also expected to rename Raul Castro as president.

Critics of the Cuban government say elections are not open and note that only approved candidates are allowed to stand.

But Cuba defends its system as democratic and points to high turnout as an indicator of the elections' participatory nature.