Throughout living memory, Puerto Rico has had essentially a two-party system. Unlike the states, where Republican and Democratic parties are the mainstream of political choice, Puerto Rico has the PNP and the PPD: the parties supporting statehood and historically a “commonwealth” option based on the island’s current status as a U.S. territory. A smaller Independence Party is included in discussions of politics in spite of the fact that it represents fewer Puerto Rico voters than the Libertarian or Green parties in the states. Together, the three well-known parties represent the political status choices which are viable under the U.S. Constitution.
This year, something new has arisen. The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) and Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana (MVC) have made a pact called La Alianza. The initial plan was to create a coalition between the Independence Party, which has never received a significant proportion of the votes in Puerto Rico, and the MVC, which officially does not take a position on political status. Rejecting the tradition in Puerto Rico politics they focus on a general progressive agenda and declare themselves neutral on political status.
Accordingly, La Alianza made a deal. PIP supporters will vote for MVC candidates and vice versa. An example from the San Juan Daily Star suggests “the MVC voting for the PIP’s Juan Dalmau for governor in exchange for his party voting for the MVC’s candidate for resident commissioner, Sen. Ana I. Rivera Lassén.”
Dalmau is a PIP candidate. If MVC fields a gubernatorial candidate, too, each of the minority parties would vote for their candidate and neither would receive a significant number of votes. The same thing could happen if both little parties had a candidate for Resident Commissioner. So the two parties had a meeting in December and agreed that MVC voters would support Dalmau along with PIP supporters. In exchange, PIP voters will support the MVC candidate for Resident Commissioner. In each case, the minority candidate could see double the usual number of votes.
La Alianza made similar deals with a number of other candidates, for positions from mayor on up.
NACLA describes the plan admiringly, saying, “[B]oth parties must run shadow candidates that they want constituents to vote against.”
The Star sees it differently. “The recently announced agreement between the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP by its Spanish acronym) and Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana (MVC) to support each other’s candidates, by switching their votes from the candidate of one party to that of the other, is a conspiracy in the eyes of federal and state governments to defraud the electoral laws through false representation,” they assert. “It is a violation of the equal protection of the laws and due process rights under the U.S. Constitution (Amend XIV), and under the Puerto Rico Constitution (Art. II-7). In considering the political damage to the candidates of other parties not conspiring, the equal protection of the laws and due process rights are affected in the outcome of the election by the illegal agreement of the PIP and MVC leaders.”
Will the plan work?
The Independence Party has never won an election for governor or for resident commissioner. Nor has the MVC, though they have not been in existence as long as the PIP. However, in the last gubernatorial contest, there were six candidates, including PNP, PPD, PIP, and MVC representatives. The winner, Governor Pierluisi, had 33.2% of the vote, narrowly beating the PPD candidate, who had 31.7%. With six candidates in the race, these numbers were not surprisingly low. However, both the PIP and MVC candidates managed to come close to 14% — the highest percentages ever for their parties. If they had joined forces, they would still have come in third, but the showing was certainly better than in the past. The other candidates received 6.8% and 0.7%.
Both small parties speculated that together they might have a chance in future elections. Since some MVC members say they support independence, they were open to the suggestion of a coalition with the PIP, though they also wanted to include other organizations in such an alliance.
Independence has never received more than 5% of the votes in any status referendum. An Independence Party governor would be a big change for Puerto Rico. La Alianza is willing to bet on this long shot.