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Wanda Vazquez Says She Doesn’t Want Puerto Rico Governor Job

Ezra Fieser and Michael Deibert

(Bloomberg) -- Wanda Vazquez, Puerto Rico’s governor-in-waiting, said she doesn’t want the job, escalating a political crisis that has shaken the U.S. territory in recent weeks.

In a Sunday Twitter post, Vazquez, who faces her own controversies, said she hoped that Governor Ricardo Rossello would nominate a different successor before he steps down Aug. 2. She is an ally of the outgoing governor and a member of his New Progressive Party.

Her announcement raises pressure on Rossello, who has less than a week to nominate a new secretary of state, adding to Puerto Rico’s dysfunction and political chaos. That person would need confirmation from a majority in both houses of the island’s legislature -- and since so many officials have resigned recently in disgrace, it is uncertain who could take over.

The official next in succession is Francisco Pares, the treasury secretary, who, at 31, is not old enough to be governor. The minimum age is 35. Next in line appears to be Education Secretary Eligio Hernandez.

Rossello said late Wednesday he would leave office halfway through his four-year term, after weeks of massive protests over the publication of profanity-laced chats between him and his inner circle. The scandal forced the resignation of the sitting secretary of state -- next in line to fill a vacancy in the governor’s office -- and leaving Vazquez, the secretary of justice, as next under the constitution.

Rossello’s office did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

The island of 3.2 million people is facing its worst political crisis in decades as the Rossello administration has been weakened by the resignations and the indictment this month of two officials on charges of steering contracts to favored companies. The commonwealth is trying to recover from an economic recession that has stretched for more than a decade, and a bankruptcy process brought on by years of over-borrowing, followed by a hurricane that wreaked billions of dollars worth of damage.

The succession fight also brings into relief just how quickly the balance of power has shifted in Puerto Rico. The island’s politicians, accustomed to cutting back room deals and horse-trading, suddenly face an energized, vocal and massive pressure group that tasted its power by bringing down Rossello. This new power center shows no signs of being willing to cede.

Party Clash

Vazquez faces stiff opposition on her own, perhaps explaining her reluctance to take power: from demonstrators, members of her own party -- with whom she had clashed over investigations -- and from opposition lawmakers, who complained she was part of the same corrupt system as Rossello. The antagonism from within both her party as well as the opposition weighed heavily against her appointment.

“In every scandal we’ve had on the island, she failed to investigate. She covered it up,” House Minority Leader Representative Rafael Hernandez said in a telephone interview. “That’s why nobody wanted her to become governor.”

Vazquez has denied allegations of wrongdoing, calling them “vicious” attacks.

Hernandez said leaders in the New Progressive Party are jockeying behind the scenes to be nominated secretary of state and thus next in line to be governor.

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez, the island’s non-voting representative to the U.S. House, are among the potential candidates.

But they too came under fire, as hundreds of people gathered for a salsa celebration of Rosello’s resignation and a further cleaning of Puerto Rico’s political house.

“Both Thomas Rivera Schatz or Jenniffer González would be unacceptable,” said Rosa Seguí Cordero, spokeswoman for the Citizen’s Victory Movement, a new political grouping formed in March and which has been active in the protests. “They are both tainted by ongoing corruption scandals. We demand a citizen-led audit of the public debt and all subcontracting.”

Any confirmation process could be done within 48 hours, Hernandez said.

“The question is who Rossello is going to nominate because they have to find someone who is not going to just cause this whole crisis to continue,” he said.

Neither Rivera Schatz nor Gonzalez responded immediately to emails seeking comment. Rossello has not signaled publicly who he intends to nominate.

(Updates context, color and quotes throughout)

To contact the reporters on this story: Ezra Fieser in Bogota at efieser@bloomberg.net;Michael Deibert in San Juan at mdeibert@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Ludden at jludden@bloomberg.net, Ian Fisher, Steve Geimann

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