Democracy in Puerto Rico?

One of the drawbacks to being a territory of the United States instead of a state is that residents of territories cannot vote in presidential elections. They also have no voting members — senators or voting congressional reps — in the legislature. The lack of voting power equals a lack of political power. The president is able to complain that releasing funds for Medicare in Puerto Rico is a “bailout” for Puerto Rico. U.S. senators are able to write scolding letters to the PROMESA fiscal oversight board saying that they “are not interested” in paying creditors. States don’t face this kind of situation, because they have votes.

So it is ironic that two of the Island’s political parties are calling for a boycott on the upcoming plebiscite — a voluntary rejection of the chance to vote.

Why?

The Independence Party has already stated that they will not accept the majority vote unless that vote is for independence. Puerto Rico has never voted for independence in a plebiscite and has never voted for an Independence Party governor. The chance that independence will win this plebiscite is very small. If there is a change of heart in Puerto Rico and the majority of voters choose independence, the Independence Party will accept the results of that vote. Otherwise, they will not. This is not democracy.

The Independence Party website says this:

If the PNP government amends the plebiscite law, including as a status alternative the continuation of colonialism that was rejected by most Puerto Ricans in 2012, it will have turned this next consultation into the plebiscite of indignity. The Independence Party announces today that if the government does not reconsider, the PIP will denounce and combat this spurious vote and will promote an alliance of sovereign forces committed to fight against both colonialism and annexation through an electoral boycott of the plebiscite Of June 11, or whenever it is going to take place.

The Department of Justice insisted on including the current territorial status as an option on the ballot — along with independence and statehood. This may be providing an excuse for boycotting the vote. The Independence Party has already said that they will not accept the results of the plebiscite unless they win. Their boycott simply gives them a better story.

As for the “commonwealth” party, they want to include the current territorial option on the ballot. They just don’t want to admit that it is a territorial option. They don’t want to admit that a vote for the territorial option will be more of the same. They want to pretend that  “enhanced commonwealth” is still on the menu. It isn’t. In fact, it never was.

In 2012, 54% of voters said they did not want to continue as a territory. The “commonwealth” party is probably aware that the choice to become a territory won’t win in 2017’s plebiscite. Boycotting the vote will add confusion.

  • Under the law framing the plebiscite, not voting doesn’t count as a vote.
  • People fail to vote for many reasons, including oversleeping or deciding not to vote. It is not possible to say for sure what any non-voter meant.

The “commonwealth” party is not willing to let everyone vote and abide by the results. They want to be able to claim after the plebiscite that it looks as though they lost, but they didn’t really. This is what they did in 2012, and they got away with it. Congress accepted their claim that the 2012 vote was unclear.

That’s not democracy.

If the anti-statehood parties truly believe that most Puerto Ricans want to continue to live in a territory or that most Puerto Ricans want to live in an independent nation, they will step up and encourage their supporters to vote for those options, both of which are on the ballot.

They don’t believe that they can win, so they’re trying to sidestep the democratic process. That’s not democracy.

The people of Puerto Rico should have the opportunity to vote for their preferred status option in June. They should be able to choose between statehood and independence, the two non-territorial options. The Department of Justice has directed that the current territory status must also be on the ballot, and the government of Puerto Rico followed that directive. All three possible status options are on the ballot. Voters should make their choice.

If you live on the Island, please be sure to register and to vote. If you live in one of the 50 states, please remind your friends and family in Puerto Rico to vote. Don’t reject the chance for democracy.

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