For the first time in 32 years, Puerto Ricans will have a Working People’s Party in the ballot in the upcoming November elections.
Traditionally, island politics have been reduced to a continuous shifting of power from the Pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) and the pro-status quo Popular Democratic Party (PPD), while the Puerto Rican Independence Party struggled each election to obtain at least 3% of the votes in order to be automatically registered for the next elections. The status orientated definition of parties usually meant that class issues were marginalized from most discussions.
The more conservative PNP took advantage of its turns at power to implement the typical neoliberal agenda of budget cuts, privatization, and repressive law making. When it was the ideologically absent-minded PPD’s turn, they did not overturn any of the measures and simply sailed through hoping for the best. The Puerto Rican Independence party, although self declared social democratic and member of the Socialist International, typically centered their campaigns on nationalist sentiments, inspiring little votes from the population.
The 2008 elections had a new contender, the Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party. Their campaign was ideologically moderate and environment oriented, and urged Puerto Ricans to move past debates on the political status in order to start getting things done. Surprisingly, the new party obtained even more votes than the Independence Party and almost enough to be automatically registered for the next election. The Independence Party went from obtaining more than 100,000 votes in the 2000 elections (more than 5%) to a little over 39,000 in 2008 (2%). Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico obtained more than 50,000 votes, representing almost 3%. This new factor urged many on the left who did not feel identified with the Independence Party to register two new parties: the Sovereignty Union Movement (MUS) and the Working People’s Party (PPT).
Even though the MUS has a rather progressive stance on most topics, their focus is on obtaining sovereignty for Puerto Rico, be it through independence or a free association pact with the US. Their objective was to look for alliances with sectors of the PPD who agreed minimally with the need for political sovereignty, although not with complete independence. The PPT on the other hand, although founded by activists publicly know to be in favor of independence, decided to not take a stance on status and center their campaign around working people’s issues. Their postures on gender, race, and environmental issues are the most progressive among all parties. Also, they emphasize the need for participatory democracy and socially based economic development through worker ownership and self-management much more than the MUS or the Independence Party.
As non-affiliated votes will now be divided among four minority parties, it is unlikely that any one of them will achieve seats in the upcoming government or the necessary votes to be automatically registered for the next elections. Nevertheless, the creation of a Working People’s Party is a historical and important step forward to any radical change in Puerto Rico.
They have already demonstrated the tactical advantage of their inscription by playing and important role in the No-No campaign during the recent referendum. Also, it is likely that they will initiate a new type of politics in the island, linking electoral participation with grassroots militancy in the streets. A good example being that two actual PPT candidates for the upcoming elections were arrested for displaying protest banners during a senatorial session. The action was also in protest of the new penal code approved by the PNP administration, which has been considered an almost fascist measure as it criminalizes most kinds of civil protest.
Hopefully, the PPT will be successful in radically utilizing the electoral process to agitating, educating, and organizing workers along with all other marginalized and oppressed sectors of Puerto Rican society.