Voters in Cuba took to the polls to decide on a government-drafted constitution. It recognizes private property but keeps the Communist party in the saddle. The debate over the draft sparked anger from religious groups.
Citizens of Cuba were expected to endorse the draft of a new constitution in a referendum on Sunday.
More than 7.5 million of the 8.7 million eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots, according to the National Electoral Commission (CEN), with official results expected to be published on Monday.
Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel has described the draft document as "anti-imperialistic." Using the hashtag CubaVotaSi, or "Cuba votes yes," he said the document "guarantees the rights of each and every citizen of the nation."
The draft would loosen some of the strict, Fidel Castro-era rules by:
It also contains references to markets and foreign investments, as well as legal representation upon arrest.
Read more: What will come after the Castros in Cuba?
At the same time, the new Constitution would name the Communist Party the "supreme political force of state and society" and declare that Cuba would never return to capitalism.
If adopted, the draft would replace a 1976 constitution influenced, in large part, by the now-defunct Soviet Union. The 1976 document was backed by 98 percent of voters, and has since been updated in 1992 and 2002.
The country's leadership published the original version of the draft last year, giving citizens an opportunity to discuss it at a grassroots level in neighborhoods and at their workplaces. Some 760 tweaks to the text have been made following the public debate and the Communist leadership has since used its grip on the media to mount support for the document.
Christians and dissidents opposed
While opposition parties are banned in Cuba, the government-drafted document faced organized criticism from the country's evangelical community and the Roman Catholic church. Specifically, religious leaders opposed the article on marriage, which defined it as a "union of two persons."
The government has since removed the reference, but denied that the move came in response to the church criticism. They also pledged to revive the definition as a part of a new family law, according to the American NPR broadcaster.
Cuban dissidents and the anti-Castro diaspora also campaigned against the document for cementing Communist rule.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote on Twitter that the referendum was "another ploy of the Cuban regime to cover up its repression and tyranny."
US-Cuba relations have soured since US President Donald Trump reversed a policy by his predecessor, Barack Obama, to overcome Cold War-era animosity with Havanna.
amp,dj/jm (AP, dpa, Reuters)