Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in the U.S. Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, said that if he has taken a step forward to become the new leader of the pro-statehood PNP party, it's because he understands that's what Puerto Ricans want.

"If I've raised my flag early it's so everyone will know that it's my responsibility to lead the party and because I hope the people expect that of me," Pierluisi, who won a second four-year term in the Nov. 6 elections, told Efe in San Juan.

"This is what's best for the party and the statehood movement, but the decision belongs to the (PNP) delegates," he said.

Pierluisi said the goal is to get the PNP organized to win the 2016 gubernatorial election and maintain vigilant oversight on the incoming administration of Alejandro Garcia Padilla and the PPD, Puerto Rico's other major party, which opposes statehood.

Garcia Padilla defeated incumbent PNP Gov. Luis Fortuño in last month's ballot.

Pierluisi said he would not let the PNP fall into despair or disarray next month when Fortuño leaves office and steps down as party chair.

As for some pundits' conjectures that if he becomes the next PNP chair so soon it could jeopardize his standing with the public, he said now is the time to take the reins of the party in hand, not to become the candidate for governor, something that won't be decided until mid-2015.

"Whoever has the best image before the people is the one who should assume that role, and whoever believes he can do it better than me, let him step forward and let the delegates decide," Pierluisi said.

He also said that becoming the new head of the PNP would help achieve the goal of getting Congress to favor the calling of a binding referendum on the political status of Puerto Rico.

"The ideal is a bill based on bipartisan support, since any bill...that lacks bipartisan support is doomed to failure," Puerto Rico's resident commissioner in Washington said.

Pierluisi's words came after Puerto Ricans voted 54 percent to 46 percent in a non-binding plebiscite to end the island's current commonwealth relationship with the United States.

On the second question, 61.1 percent voted for U.S. statehood.

Puerto Rico came under Washington's sway in 1898 and island residents were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917, yet they cannot vote in presidential elections, though Puerto Ricans living in the continental United States can.

Since 1952, the island has been a self-governing, unincorporated territory of the United States with broad internal autonomy, but without the right to conduct its own foreign policy.

EFE