Danica Coto, AP, June 12, 2017
Puerto Rico’s governor is vowing to make the U.S. territory the 51st state after statehood won in a non-binding referendum hit by a boycott and low turnout that raised questions about the vote’s legitimacy.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello told a couple hundred supporters waving U.S. flags late Sunday that he will soon create a commission to appoint two senators and five representatives to demand statehood from the U.S. Congress, which has to approve any changes to the island’s political status.
“The United States of America will have to obey the will of our people!” Rossello yelled to a crowd clutching U.S. flags and dancing to a tropical jingle that promoted statehood.
But experts say it is highly unlikely a Republican-controlled Congress would acknowledge Sunday’s results, let alone accept them because Puerto Rico tends to favor Democrats.
More than half a million people voted for statehood during Sunday’s referendum, followed by nearly 7,800 votes for free association/independence and more than 6,800 votes for the current territorial status. Voter turnout was just 23 percent.
It was the lowest level of participation in any election in Puerto Rico since 1967, noted Carlos Vargas Ramos, an associate with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York. He told The Associated Press that even among voters who supported statehood, turnout was lower this year compared with the previous referendum in 2012.
Three of Puerto Rico’s political parties including the main opposition party had called on their supporters to boycott the referendum, which they labeled a failure.
Former Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who did not seek re-election last year and whose party supports the status quo, rejected Sunday’s results.
“Whoever claims that statehood triumphed is being intellectually dishonest,” he said. “The boycott defeated statehood.”