Police on a street leading to the governor's mansion ahead of the Puerto Rico's Ricardo Rossello's resignation. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/JOE RAEDLE
Police on a street leading to the governor's mansion ahead of the Puerto Rico's Ricardo Rossello's resignation. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/JOE RAEDLE

San Juan — The lawyer tapped by Puerto Rico’s outgoing governor to lead the bankrupt US territory faced opposition from legislators on Wednesday, two days before the island’s top executive plans to bow to the demands of protesters and resign.

Outgoing governor Ricardo Rosselló formally nominated the island’s former non-voting representative in the US Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, as secretary of state, which would position him to take over the government if he is confirmed by law makers.

But some members of Rosselló’s party voiced opposition to the pick, citing Pierluisi’s role advising the federally created financial oversight board overseeing the island’s bankruptcy, which is highly unpopular with Puerto Rico residents.

Anger over the bankruptcy, the handling of back-to-back 2017 hurricanes that killed some 3,000 people, the filing of federal corruption charges against two former administration officials, and the publication of profane chat messages between Rosselló and his close advisers sparked nearly two weeks of street protests in July, demanding his ouster.

The largest protest, last week, drew an estimated 500,000 demonstrators to the streets of San Juan, capital of the island of 3.2-million people.

House speaker Carlos Méndez said he favoured Senate president Thomas Rivera Schatz over Pierluisi, citing Pierluisi’s role at O’Neill & Borges, one of the two law firms representing the financial oversight board in the bankruptcy.

“There are some issues that have to do with the fiscal oversight board,” Mendez said in a local radio interview, without elaborating. He suggested that Pierluisi does not have enough support from House law makers for his confirmation.

A source close to the Rosselló administration told Reuters that Pierluisi’s nomination may be “dead on arrival” as a result of his connection to the oversight board. To be confirmed, Pierluisi will need votes that equate to a majority of the 51 members of the Puerto Rico House and of the 27 senators. Law makers are expected to vote on Thursday in a special session Rosselló called when he made the nomination.

“After much analysis and taking into account the best interests of our people, I have selected Mr Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to fill the vacancy of secretary of state,” Rosselló said in a statement.

Pierluisi said his goal is to transform the energy shown by Puerto Ricans into constructive actions. “I have listened to the people’s messages, their demonstrations, their demands and their concerns,” he said in a statement. “And in this new challenge in my life, I will only answer to the people.”

Replacing the first-term governor became complicated after secretary of state Luis Rivera Marin, who would have been first in line to assume the office, resigned on July 13 because of his participation in the group chat. Afterwards, the second in line for the top government post, secretary of justice Wanda Vázquez, said she did not want the position.

As of Tuesday, Pierluisi was on a leave of absence from his job as a corporate lawyer for O’Neill & Borges. He previously served as Puerto Rico’s attorney-general and the territory’s non-voting representative in Congress from 2008 to 2016. He unsuccessfully ran against Rosselló in the 2016 primary for governor.