|November 5, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
A Challenged Election & Uncertain Future for Puerto Rico
For the last several days, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for Governor of Puerto Rico -- and preliminarily certified winner of the office for the term beginning in January of 2005 -- has been taking on the role of an unambiguously victorious candidate, even though it is possible that his razor-thin winning plurality of votes could be changed after an official recount is finished. It is to begin on Monday and could take a month to conclude.
Meanwhile, Acevedo Vilás rival -- NPP ex-Governor Pedro Rosselló and, so far, losing candidate for a term to replace PDP outgoing Governor Sila Calderón disputes the fact that he actually is behind in the voting. In a press conference held yesterday, he cited the some 14,000 regular votes which, as of Wednesday afternoon had yet to be counted and the some 6000 votes that were cast but protested for one reason or another. By the NPPs calculation, a sufficient number of these ballots are likely to go for Rosselló, resulting in a total that could exceed that of Acevedo Vilá, even before the official recount is begun.
His spokesperson and campaign director, Frances Rodríguez, was highly critical of Acevedo Vilá for speaking about a "transition" before the official recount is complete. One NPP official, former senator Charlie Rodríguez, accused him of attempting a "democratic coup detat."
At a San Juan press conference on Wednesday, Acevedo announced that he is ready to assume the duties of the islands Chief Executive and that he is trying to reach out to newly elected members of the rival New Progressive Party (NPP), asking them to accept a "patriotic union" across party lines for the good of the island.
The results of Tuesdays voting established both houses of Puerto Ricos next legislature in the firm control of the NPP. The Party won 18 seats in the 27-member Senate and 34 in the 51-member House, according to the Elections Commissions count. A majority of island municipalities remained with or changed hands to NPP candidates. Also in control of the NPP is the post of Resident Commissioner, the islands non-voting representative in the U.S. House of Representatives. In spite of the recount, PDP candidate Roberto Pratts on Wednesday conceded victory to his NPP rival Luis Fortuño, saying that he did not wish any longer to "keep the island in suspense."
At his press conference, Acevedo Vilá proclaimed that "the people have given the mandate (of governor) to me." He also said that he had spoken by telephone with the NPP winning candidate for the post of Resident Commissioner, Luis Fortuño, with whom he would serve as one of the two top elected officials of Puerto Rico, should his narrow lead in the vote count (0.2%) be sustained by the new vote count. He reported that he had asked the Resident Commissioner Elect for cooperation in the transition phase leading up to the assumption of powers for the newly elected officials, now just two months away.
In spite of the Rosselló campaign protests, the Provisional Governor-Elect has already begun to form a transition team.
The recount is required by law should the voting margin between candidates be less than 0.5%. As the count stood when the Elections Commission declared Acevedo Vilá the provisional winner, he had 953,459 (48.38%) votes island-wide and Pedro Rosselló 949,579 (48.18%). The Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) candidate for Governor, Ruben Berríos, polled only 52,660 (2.67%) votes, or less than the 3% minimum number of votes required for a political party to remain official in Puerto Rico.
The interim policy of both candidates seems clear. While Acevedo Vilá is rushing to appear confident and "executive," Pedro Rosselló is putting a "responsible" face on the situation presently existing in Island politics. Through his spokespeople he is saying that Acevedos posture is "imprudent" and not in keeping with the very serious crisis that could result from a split government in Puerto Rico.
The implications of such a governing arrangement could have unintended consequences as Puerto Rico seeks solutions for the many issues facing the island and for the territorys relations with the federal government. With a majority and perhaps "veto proof" opposition in the Puerto Rico House and Senate, a PDP governor would have trouble getting legislation passed and appointments confirmed. Likewise, the legislature could see its budgetary priorities ignored.
In Washington, with a political rival sitting in the U.S. Congress, the Governors federal agenda could be sabotaged at every turn. Conversely, any initiative of the Resident Commissioner could be blocked by the Governments Washington lobbyists and by the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFFA), the huge mainland bureaucracy controlled by La Fortaleza.
Shortly after the election, Provisional Governor Elect Aníbal Acevedo Vilá proclaimed that "the people said with their vote that they want a shared government.''
This week Herald readers can react to that statement. Do you think that island voters desired a government shared by two bitterly contentious political parties over the next four years? More importantly, will a shared government be in the islands best interests?