Five years after the last plebiscite on the same issue, Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly voted for US statehood for their island in a non-binding referendum on Sunday.

As of 7:00 pm, the island's State Commission on Elections (CEE-PR) had reported that about 500,000 (23 percent) of the island's eligible voters had cast ballots, in contrast to Puerto Rico's historically high turnout in most elections.

About 97 percent of the votes were for statehood, representing a significant increase over the 61 percent that voted for statehood in 2012.

Following the results, Governor Ricardo Roselló said, "An overwhelming majority voted for statehood. Today we are sending a strong and clear message for equal rights as American citizens. This was a democratic process and statehood got a historic 97 percent of the vote."

"The federal government cannot ignore the results of this plebiscite and the will of our people," the governor said. "It would be quite ironic to demand democracy in other parts of the world but not in their own backyard. This is our home."

However US Rep. Luis Gutierrez, whose parents hailed from Puerto Rico, cautioned that, consistent with its failure to take action in 2012, "Congress won't do anything."

According to the BBC, this reluctance might stem from two reasons: a Republican-led Congress would be wary of admitting a Democratic-leaning electorate like Puerto Rico's, and the debt-troubled island would likely require more federal spending to get back on its feet.

(c)2017 the Caribbean News Now (Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands)