A Quick Primer on Puerto Rican Politics
A fair warning: while I try to be as objective as possible, it will contain traces of my opinion.
Forget The Left-Right Dichotomy
Politics in most countries can be explained using the left-right dichotomy (liberal vs conservative). But Puerto Rican politics doesn’t follow this. Instead, the politics here follow the solutions to the current political status quo: Commonwealth, Statehood, and Independence. Of course, there’s always the person that doesn’t conform to these political thinkings.
Statehood and Independence are pretty straight forward in their goals: they believe that the current status quo should ultimately be resolved by either becoming a state member of the USA, or an independent country, respectively.
Commonwealth is a bit more complicated: one faction supports maintaining the current status without change and the other supports changes to the status quo to get more control over the Island affaires while keeping a close relationship with the USA. The former has been steadily losing ground, but has kept a political clout to keep the other faction at bay.
These three political views correspond to the three main parties: PPD (Commonwealth), PNP (Statehood), and PIP (Independence). Of course, not every pro-Statehood person is in the PNP, but they will unlikely be affiliated to the PIP. The PPD has become a sort of refuge for both sides of the Puerto Rican political spectrum. It’s harder for them to define their solution to the current status, but they can effectively shut down the other two solutions.
Of these three parties, only two have governed over the Island in modern times, the PPD, and the PNP. Despite the increased acceptance of the statehood as a political option, both parties usually poll very closely. The independent voters (aka, people who don’t conform to the local dichotomy) have a strong sway, particularly in the governor’s race.
The PIP usually polls around 5 per cent, but they usually have one senator and one representative at large in the legislative branch. They have never reached much more than that. Why do I consider the PIP a major party? First, it’s almost as old as the other two parties. Second, it’s generally accepted that the percentage of pro-Independence voters is much higher than 5%. And thirdly, at one point it gathered almost 15% of the votes. If the PIP went after the PPD’s left wing, it could gather become a force to reckon with.
Minor parties tend to be either one issue proponents, or uncommon political views. This isn’t any different in Puerto Rico, except that they adapt to our dichotomy. Some parties try to appeal to the discontent and nonconformist voters. Others try to appeal across the board using the left-right dichotomy. These usually work as spoilers to the PIP. The electoral law requires that any party stay registered if they reach a certain percentage of votes. The PIP has lost its franchise several times due to these minor parties. None has reached the threshold nor has had an elected officeholder.
A little bit of departure from a political post.
Another idiosyncrasy in Puerto Rico is the Metro-Island divide. The metro area is made up of the capital San Juan, and the neighboring cities that have become a metropolis. The island area covers … well, the rest of the Island. Most news outlets, whether they are local or not, tend to focus on the Metro area. This incentivizes the state government to focus almost exclusively in the metro area, usually at the expense of the rest of the Island.
USA Political Leanings Don’t Matter
The biggest issue I have with US coverage of political figures is that they try to box politicians into the USA dichotomy. At best, it’s a misleading label; at worst, useless. USA political affiliations are a non issue. Neither national party plays a role locally, in contrast to the mainland, where the national party has an affiliate in each state. Most politicians have to go out of their way to be included in either party, making for strange bedfellows. People who have little in common, find themselves tied to opponents when dealing with the national parties. This is particularly jarring in the PNP, where the leadership is divided between Democrats and Republicans, and in the Democratic Party, where its leadership is divided between the PNP and the PPD.
This situation obfuscates some of the realities on the ground. For example, the last two governors are routinely identified as Democrats, but both are members of opposing local parties. They both have very differing views for Puerto Rico, and at a glance, that’s lost. I can only hazard a guess, but that can create a nightmare for the national parties when trying to come up with real policies.
Politics in Puerto Rico has its quirks that are routinely obfuscated by the insistence of using political their national leanings rather than the local ones. It might not amount to much difference though.
- This is a half truth. The left-right dichotomy exists as a complement to the main dichotomy. It isn't as visible.
- These are the abbreviations in Spanish.
- Not withstanding the last referendum.
- The last election was an anomaly. There were were two independent candidates that polled very well and caused a change in the results. If the next election is more "normal", the results should return to normal.
- This is mainly due to two quirks in the electoral law. The ruling party in each legislative body can't have a super-majority, and the either body gets padded by minority legislators until there is no super-majority. But to be considered as such, the party must get over 3% of the votes.
- And promptly sabotaged themselves, in my opinion.
- Usually from the Left/Labor side.
- If I remember correctly, it's a 3%.
- I'm including Hawaii and Alaska here.
- The PIP, being the pro-Independence party, doesn't even consider taking sides in USA politics.