Cubans on have begun casting ballots for a national legislature tasked with choosing the country's next president, amid growing doubts that ailing leader Fidel Castro is well enough to retake the reins of government.

More than eight million voters on this island of some 11 million inhabitants are to vote for a new parliament charged with deciding Mr Castro's fate.

Interim president Raul Castro announced that the new  parliament would make a decision on a national leader at a 24 February  meeting, amid widespread speculation that for the first time in almost five decades, it might pick someone other than Fidel Castro.

The Cuban leader, who has been sidelined from power for nearly 18 months following major intestinal surgery, is among 614 uncontested candidates for the legislature, which will name 31  lawmakers to the Council of State led by the president.

Fidel Castro's political future has been in question since he handed power to his brother Raul in July  2006, officially on an temporary basis while he recovers from surgery.

Mr Castro has not appeared in public since announcing his surgery and has only appeared in videos or still pictures.

Last Wednesday, Mr Castro appeared thin but lucid in his first video shown in three months, which was broadcast on Cuba's state television.