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Puerto Rico's governor pledges new plebiscite by 2016 to decide US island's political status

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said Wednesday that he will hold a new plebiscite by 2016 to decide the future of the island's political status.

Garcia also said that his Popular Democratic Party is working on a definition for the enhanced commonwealth status it supports.

President Barack Obama's administration has pledged $2.5 million to finance a plebiscite, and the ballot would have to be approved by the U.S. attorney general before going to voters. Garcia previously said he would support a constitutional assembly to decide the U.S. territory's status if Obama did not act on the issue.

The U.S. Congress would have to approve any change in status.

Garcia promised that the upcoming plebiscite would include a variety of options.

Meanwhile, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, the island's representative in Congress whose party supports seeking statehood for Puerto Rico, said he favors a referendum that simply asks voters if they want Puerto Rico to become a U.S. state.

"That is the easiest and most inclusive referendum we can offer," he said.

Puerto Rico held a nonbinding, two-part referendum in November 2012 that was widely criticized for being confusing. On the ballot's first question, more than 900,000 voters, or 54 percent, said they were not content with the current commonwealth status.

A second question asked voters to choose a status. Of the approximately 1.3 million voters who made a choice, nearly 800,000, or 61 percent, supported statehood. Some 437,000 backed sovereign free association and 72,560 chose independence. However, nearly 500,000 left that question blank.

Nonbinding referendums also were held in 1967, 1993 and 1998. Seeking statehood has never garnered a clear majority, and independence has never obtained more than 5 percent of the vote.

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