Pedro Pierluisi wins gubernatorial race in Puerto Rico

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Pedro Pierluisi, gubernatorial candidate with the New Progressive Party (PNP), arrives at Vivo Beach Club to celebrate a slim lead of the pro-statehood party in the Puerto Rican general elections, in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Pierluisi briefly served as governor following last year's massive protests that led to the resignation of former Gov. Ricardo Rossell. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

SAN JUAN – Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party won a majority of votes to become the U.S. territory’s next governor, according to official preliminary results released late Saturday.

Pierluisi received nearly 33% of votes compared with nearly 32% obtained by Carlos Delgado of the Popular Democratic Party, which supports the current territorial status, with 100% of precincts reporting.

The results come four days after Puerto Rico held general elections, an unusual delay blamed on a record number of early and absentee votes that overwhelmed officials. It's also the first time that Puerto Rico's two main parties fail to reach 40% of votes.

“These are times to unite wills and purposes,” Pierluisi said in a statement.

Pierluisi had claimed victory the night of the election as Delgado refused to concede, noting that his opponent was leading by a very slim margin and that thousands of votes still had not been counted.

On Saturday, he congratulated Pierluisi: “The island needs consensus, dialogue and convergence so that we can face the great challenges of the future.”

Saturday's results were released hours after U.S. President-elect Joe Biden won the election in the U.S. mainland, a victory that Pierluisi said would help Puerto Rico finally gain statehood. He congratulated Biden and said he looked forward to working with him and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris “for the benefit of all Puerto Ricans in their fight for progress and equality.”

Voters in Puerto Rico participated in a non-binding referendum the day of the local general election that asked, “Should Puerto Rico be admitted immediately into the union as a state?” More than 52% of voters approved, but any changes to the island’s political status needs approval from U.S. Congress. It is the island's sixth such referendum.

Biden has promised to work with local government officials who support a variety of political status for Puerto Rico to “initiate a just and binding process” for the island to determine its own status.

Biden also promised to fight against austerity measures sought by a federal control board overseeing Puerto Rico’s finances amid an economic crisis; accelerate the disbursement of federal funds for hurricane and earthquake reconstruction; and push for equal funding of Medicaid, Medicare and Supplemental Security Income, since Puerto Rico receives less than U.S. states.

Other results released late Saturday included those of a tight race for the mayor of Puerto Rico's capital. New Progressive Miguel Romero received more than 36% of votes, compared with more than 34% obtained by third-party candidate Manuel Natal of the Citizen Victory Movement. Natal rejected the results and said not all votes have been counted.