Outgoing Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello tapped a hand-picked successor on Friday as he resigned following mass protests, in a move that is likely to set off a new political crisis in the US territory.

The governor’s office said lawyer Pedro Pierluisi had been sworn in as governor despite the controversy surrounding the appointment.

Earlier in the day, Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives approved the former representative to the US Congress with 26 votes to 21 for the post of secretary of state, the first in line to succeed a governor.

Watch video 01:35

Puerto Rico’s governor resigns

However, the Senate, which is in recess, still hasn’t voted to confirm the appointment. It is scheduled to consider the matter next week.

Some lawmakers have argued that because the legislature was not in session when Pierluisi was appointed, he was already secretary of state. Others have said he still needs to be confirmed by both chambers.

But at a news conference late Friday, Pierluisi recognized his appointment must first be approved by the Senate on Wednesday.

“If I am not ratified then the second in line, the secretary of justice of Puerto Rico, will take over the governorship,” Pierluisi told reporters.

Pedro Pierluisi (picture-alliance/AP Photo/D. M. Rivera Pichardo)

Pierluisi appeared to recognize his stint as governor could be short lived if he doesn’t secure the Senate’s support

Senate challenge?

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz has suggested he would challenge the succession.

“He [Rossello] did not respect the wishes of the people. In fact, he mocked them using new accomplices,” Schatz said on Twitter. “The disrespect, the lying the unethical and illegal behavior went viral.”

Schatz and some other senators have argued that under the law, Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez should succeed as governor in the absence of a secretary of state. She has said she has no interest in the position.

Legal experts have said the secretary of state must be approved by both the House and Senate. 

The political crisis comes after Rossello was forced to resign following weeks of protests against poor governance and leaked tapes that detailed an obscenity-laced chat in which Rossello and 11 other men made fun of women, gay people and victims of Hurricane Maria.

Rossello’s administration was also criticized for corruption and its handling of the aftermath of the hurricane, which left more than 3,000 dead in 2017.

Some lawmakers have questioned Pierluisi over his previous role as an adviser to a control board created by the US Congress to control the territory’s finances after it declared a form of bankruptcy. Pierluisi says there is no conflict of interest.

Watch video 02:33

Puerto Rico: 1 year after Hurricane Maria

cw/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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