Puerto Ricans decided to shift course by electing Alejandro Garcia Padilla of the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party, or PPD, as their new governor.
Delays by the State Elections Commission of Puerto Rico in announcing the results of the voting meant that Garcia Padilla did not celebrate his victory until the wee hours of Wednesday, while Gov. Luis Fortuño of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, or PNP, did not concede until late Wednesday morning.
With 96.35 percent of the votes counted, 47.85 percent of the ballots were cast for the PPD standard-bearer, compared to 47.04 percent for Fortuño.
Garcia Padilla told his supporters at his party's headquarters in San Juan that he would govern for all Puerto Ricans and praised the efforts of all the candidates.
Fortuño, meanwhile, congratulated Garcia Padilla and said it is time for residents of the U.S. territory to unite behind a new governor.
Spiraling drug-related crime that left 1,100 dead in 2011, an unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent and a long-struggling economy tipped the balance in favor of Garcia Padilla.
Tuesday's ballot also included a non-binding referendum on the future of Puerto Rico's relationship with the United States. A slim majority voted in favor of ending the island's current commonwealth status and becoming the 51st U.S. state, although such a change would require the approval of the U.S. Congress.
But despite the results of the plebiscite, Garcia Padilla's victory served to stymie the aspirations of statehood advocates for another four years.
The PNP favors U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico, while the PPD advocates an enhanced commonwealth status.
More than 2.4 million people were eligible to cast ballots on Tuesday.
In the other major race, for the post of non-voting representative to the U.S. Congress, PNP incumbent Pedro Pierluisi appeared headed for a narrow victory over the PPD's Rafael Cox Alomar.
Voters also chose the 78 members of the Puerto Rican legislature and the mayors of the island's 79 municipalities. EFE