Who succeeds Fidel Castro has been a subject of speculation [AFP]

 

For the first time in 49 years, Cuba is to have a new president.

 

The national assembly is meeting to appoint a 31 member council of state.

 

The assembly members met on Sunday in a closed session to appoint a new leader and, along with him, the first vice-president and five second-tier vice-presidents.

 

The acting president Raul Castro, 76, is the clear favourite.

 

He is widely perceived by Cubans to be pragmatic and capable of implementing new measures which might alleviate some of the economic woes affecting Cubans.

 

In the last year, Raul has encouraged people to meet in private town hall meetings to debate the issues bothering them: low wages, decrepit housing, a strained transport network and government corruption.

 

Hours before the new president is appointed, Cubans have been going about their lives, strolling along the "malecon" or boardwalk with their children or sitting on the doorsteps of their homes in Old Havana.

 

There are no signs a new era is about to begin on the Caribbean island.

 

Mixed views

 

Watching the ocean waves, a group of young Cubans had mixed views about their country's future.

 

Jorge Fernandez said Raul will implement reforms. "Now with Raul things are going to change because he has an iron fist," he said.

 

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Marilyn Gonzalez had a different view. She's confident Raul will continue with the ideals Fidel Castro set for the communist island.

 

"Everything will be ok. We will accept the next president and agree to his ideas without Fidel."

 

But many Cubans like Solange Columbie are sad that the "Commander Fidel" will not be in charge. Seventy per cent of Cubans have only known him as their leader.

 

"I think it's difficult to accept Fidel's resignation because from now on with a new president we don't know how things are going to be or what will happen next," she said.

 

Currently a second-tier vice-president, Carlos Lage is being spoken of as favourite for the role of first vice-president.

 

For the first time the position will not go to a Castro. Lage is the person who managed the Cuban economy when the Soviet Union collapsed.

 

Some young Cubans like Julio Yosvani are even hopeful a young man like him may vault into the top job. "I think Carlos Lage will be named president because he’s open-minded, he's young and he knows Cuba very well.

 

"I don't agree with Raul being the next president," he said.

Source: Al Jazeera