(BBC) For the first time in Cuba, at least two government opponents will be standing on Sunday in municipal elections.
Hildebrando Chaviano is an independent journalist and lawyer, and Yuniel Lopez a member of an outlawed political party, the Independent and Democratic Cuba Party.
The two men are standing for places on local councils in Havana.
Their election would be unprecedented in Cuba’s single-party system.
Both Mr Chaviano and Mr Lopez told foreign press agencies they thought the government was caught off guard by the strength of their support in the opening round.
Like half of the 27,000 candidates for municipal posts, the two were selected by a show of hands in a local neighbourhood meeting. The final round of the elections is by secret vote – there is no campaigning.
“We have to take advantage of the moment,” Mr Chaviano said. “No-one from the government was expecting us to be nominated and even less that we would become candidates.”
“Some people say that there is fear in Cuba, and I say that people have lost their fear,” said Mr Lopez.
Both men are running for seats on municipal assemblies that oversee local matters that include water supplies, street repairs and insect fumigation.
Municipal assemblies also nominate candidates for half the representatives on provincial assemblies.
The provincial assemblies then nominate candidates for half the members of the National Assembly, which elects Cuba’s ruling Council of State, which in turn elects the president.
The other half of the candidates at municipal and provincial level are selected by a government electoral commission, ensuring continued Communist Party control.
President Raul Castro began introducing gradual but wide-ranging economic reforms in 2010.
He also promised changes to the electoral system, but has yet to provide details.
Observers say the fact that dissidents are on the ballot is the first indication that at least in appearance, Cuban authorities may be softening their control on politics.
In December, President Castro and his US counterpart Barack Obama announced that their countries would work for a restoration of normal relations after a half century of enmity.