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Dissident candidates concede defeat in historic Cuban municipal elections

Two opposition candidates in local elections in Cuba admitted defeat after preliminary results showed other candidates winning. The two made history after winning the initial vote and making it to the final round.

Hildebrando Chaviano (pictured above, left) and Yuniel Lopez (right) conceded defeat after early results showed them losing against Communist Party candidates. The two won in initial rounds of voting for 12,589 seats in 168 municipal councils, which repair streets, ensure water supply and hygiene.

Had they won, 65-year-old lawyer Chaviano and 26-year-old Lopez would have been the first officials to be elected from outside Cuba's Communist Party. The two were the only non-Communist candidates among 30,000 people running for the council seats.

The Cuban government bans all political parties other than the Communist Party in its constitution. However, lawyer-turned-activist Chaviano said he and Lopez managed to participate in the election solely because of a "loophole" in the laws. "That has caught them by surprise, and now it's too late to backtrack," Chaviano told AFP news agency.

The two candidates' official biographies were displayed publicly in Cuba, and described both Chaviano and Lopez as counterrevolutionaries. There was no mention of them in the state-controlled media.

A victory for either of the two would not have created much impact, but could have indicated that the all-powerful Communist Party under President Raul Castro was losing its hold on people.

Havana's National Electoral Commission has called the vote an act of "genuine democracy," but the United States has repeatedly expressed concern over "violent silencing" of its dissidents.

Cuba's record on human rights may be a hindrance as the country prepares to

improve relations with the US

and the European Union.

mg/bk (AFP, AP)

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