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Bittersweet Primaries for the New Progressive Party

By on February 12, 2016

From its foundation in 1968, the leadership of the New Progressive Party has prided itself as a party where internal primaries strengthen its structure and have yielded much electoral political benefit.

But that political maxim has not always favored the party and, due to wounds suffered in the process and the internal strife it generated, it has cost the party the general elections, such as in 1984, 1988, 2004 and, most recently, in 2012.

For the 2016 general elections, the NPP has a number of primaries, beginning with the candidacy for governor, followed by resident commissioner, legislators by district and many for city hall, such as San Juan.

Vying for the candidacy for governor are Ricardo Rosselló and the current resident commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, who is also NPP president.

In Rosselló’s camp, the former NPP speaker of the House of Representatives, Jenniffer González, is seeking the candidacy for resident commissioner. In Pierluisi’s camp is engineer Carlos Ignacio Pesquera, who is a former NPP president and unsuccessfully ran for governor in the 2000 general elections against Sila María Calderón.

Matters appear to be about the same on the legislative level. There is intense struggle for the presidency of the Senate between Thomas Rivera Schatz and Abel Nazario, mayor of Yauco. In subtler ways, others are also making their moves for the position, including Sens. Larry Seilhamer, current speaker of the NPP in the Senate; Carmelo Ríos; and Margarita Nolasco.

Campaign directors Elías Sánchez (for Rosselló), and Néstor Aponte Hernández (for Pierluisi), who is a former judge and legislator, have expressed that confrontations will be avoided at all costs, but Sánchez warned that if attacked there will be retribution.

This past weekend, former Gov. Pedro Rosselló called attention to the need for internal unity to move the NPP forward. “We have to be more united than ever,” said the former NPP president. Meanwhile, Leo Díaz, recently elected president of the NPP in San Juan, and Jorge Hernández Vivoni, a former secretary of Housing with deep ties to San Juan’s communities, are both aspiring for San Juan mayor.

The race for Senate president looks quite even because Nazario has a great ability to move among the candidates in the Senate district and is part of the top leadership in Ricardo Rosselló’s campaign. For Rivera Schatz, he bases his campaign on his performance as president of the Senate (2009-2013) and his work in NPP leadership positions, such as secretary general and a electoral commissioner, as well as occupying one of the vice presidencies of his party.

“He is a party colleague. I am going to be president of a different Senate,” Rivera Schatz has said about Nazario’s aspiration.

Meanwhile, the Yauco mayor is sure of his victory and that he will be the next president of the Senate. “We are going to win,” Nazario has said.

Sen. Seilhamer had postponed his announcement regarding his decision to seek re-election and opt for the Senate presidency, awaiting Rivera Schatz’s decision on whether he would run for governor. However, given the former Senate president’s reluctance, Seilhamer opted to seek re-election to the Senate and maneuver to receive support for his bid to preside the Senate. Seilhamer had also been mentioned—and did not dispel the rumors—as aspiring for the NPP candidacy for resident commissioner.

The situation will not be that much different in the House of Representatives, if the NPP were to win the legislative majority in the November general elections. More than one person is already actively campaigning to shore up support to lead that body, among them Rep. Johnny Méndez, who is the current alternate speaker for the NPP minority in the House; Rep. Gabriel Rodríguez Aguiló; and very much on the low, former president of the House and current NPP secretary general, José Aponte Hernández.

Rep. Méndez is very active in Ricardo Rosselló’s primary campaign, facing the group that supports the candidacy of NPP President and Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi.

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