By Dave Sherwood
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba said on Monday that voters had elected all 470 candidates for the National Assembly on the ballot over the weekend, calling the results a "home run," while opposition groups critiqued the elections as a farce.
Election officials said Monday that the initial turnout was 75.9%, topping participation in municipal elections in November and a referendum on the Cuban family code, which legalized gay marriage, in September.
"We want to thank our people ... for participating in a massive way in this electoral process of transcendental importance for the present and the future of the nation," Alina Balseiro, president of Cuba's National Electoral Council, said on state-run TV.
Participation in Sunday's election was widely seen by both pro- and anti-government groups as a proxy for gauging support for Cuba's communist leadership at a time of deep economic crisis and growing social unrest.
Though three of every four Cubans voted Sunday, that rate was still nearly 10 percentage points below participation in 2018 legislative elections and well below all previous elections under late President Fidel Castro, when nearly every Cuban of voting age typically cast a ballot.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who led a government campaign to encourage turnout on Sunday, called the results a "win" for Cuba.
"The numbers say more than words," Diaz-Canel said on Twitter. "It's a clean home run."
Opposition groups, primarily outside of Cuba, had encouraged voters to stay home in protest, calling the election a "farce" in a one-party system with no formal opposition or international oversight.
The U.S. embassy in Havana called the elections "antidemocratic" on social media.
Cuba defends its single-party system, saying it promotes unity and limits the sway of money in elections.
The 470 candidates on Sunday's paper ballot were vying for 470 open seats in the legislature. There were no opposition candidates.
In order to win a place in the National Assembly, a candidate must, however, receive more than half the votes of those who cast ballots.
Balseiro said 72% of voters had chosen an option on ballots that allowed them to vote for all the candidates in one go, meaning that all 470 contenders were elected.
Watchdog organizations including rights group Cubalex, which has received funding from the U.S.-backed National Endowment for Democracy, alleged that independent observers, journalists and activists were harassed by Cuban state security, saw their internet cut, or were detained before or during the elections.
Cuba's government did not immediately reply to a request for comment on those allegations.
Cuba says it monitors its own elections and does not allow independent, international observers to follow the proceedings.
Lawmakers elected on Sunday will serve for five years. In their first session, slated for April, they will choose the next president of Cuba from among their ranks.
Diaz-Canel, who won a seat in the National Assembly on Sunday, is widely expected to be re-elected as president by his fellow legislators.
The new crop of lawmakers is also expected to pass laws governing controversial issues, including the regulation of the press and the right to protest in Cuba.
(Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Alistair Bell and Rosalba O'Brien)