HAVANA – 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.
"The vote was clean," Chaviano said. "The people don't want change."
The count of Chaviano's race in Havana's relatively upscale Vedado neighborhood was watched by an unusual number of residents, virtually all in favor of pro-government candidates. After the vote count was read out, they assembled into a well-organized crowd that shouted pro-revolutionary slogans including "Love live Fidel!" after former President Fidel Castro, who cast his ballot Sunday at his house in Havana.
Narciso Viera, a 71-year-old retired manual laborer, told an American reporter that he voted against Chaviano because "he's a counter-revolutionary, in the pay of your government for many years."
Chaviano's government-edited official candidate biography described him as a counter-revolutionary, and mentioned that he had taken classes at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Lopez's biography contained similar disparaging information.
Backers of Julio Cesar Chaldran, who beat Lopez, marched through their working-class neighborhood of Arroyo Naranjo singing the national anthem and shouting "Long Live the Revolution!" and "Long Live Fidel!"
A group of Lopez's backers marched alongside shouting back their support for the dissident.
"I'm very happy, despite the defeat, to see people supporting me, despite the campaign against me," Lopez told The Associated Press.