Puerto Ricans opt for statehood

A slim majority of Puerto Ricans sought to change their ties with the United States and become the 51st US state in a non-binding referendum that would require final approval from Congress.

The two-part referendum asked whether the island wanted to change its 114-year relationship with the United States.

Nearly 54%, or 922,374 people, sought to change it, while 46%, or 786,749 people, favoured the status quo. Around 96% of 1,643 precincts were reporting as of early today.

The second question asked voters to choose from three options, with statehood by far the favourite, garnering 61%. Sovereign free association, which would have allowed for more autonomy, received 33%, while independence got 5%.

President Barack Obama earlier expressed support for the referendum and pledged to respect the will of the people in the event of a clear majority.

It is unclear whether US Congress will debate the referendum results or if Mr Obama will consider the results to be a clear enough majority.

Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, who has championed statehood, did not return calls for comment. He received 48% or 874,914 votes, while his opponent, Rafael Cox Alomar, received 47% or 855,732 votes with 96% of precincts reporting.

The island is currently a US territory whose inhabitants are US citizens but are prohibited from voting in presidential elections. Its resident commissioner in the US House also has limited voting powers.

The future of the island’s political status, however, is also dependent on who governs the island.

According to partial election results, pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuno was ousted by a razor thin margin by an opponent who supports the island’s current political status.

With 96% of precincts reporting, challenger Alejandro Garcia Padilla with the Popular Democratic Party received 48% or 870,005 votes. Mr Fortuno, a Republican and leader of the New Progressive Party, received 47% or 855,325 votes.

Mr Fortuno has not issued comment, while Mr Garcia celebrated what he called a victory.

“I can assure you we have rescued Puerto Rico,” Mr Garcia said. “This is a lesson to those who think that the well-being of Puerto Ricans should be subjected to ideologies.”

Election results also pointed to a major upset for Jorge Santini, who has been mayor of the capital of San Juan for 12 years. His opponent, Carmen Yulin Cruz, received 71,736 votes compared with Mr Santini’s 66,945 votes with 96% of precincts reporting.

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