Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Whatever happens at the next Spanish general election in March 2012 the country will find itself led by a new prime minister. On Saturday José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero announced at a PSOE conference that he would not be a candidate at the polls.

The move was widely anticipated and so Zapatero draws a close on what will be his two terms as premier. The next prime minister could be Mariano Rajoy whose Partido Popular currently lead in the polls. Who will lead PSOE has yet to be decided.

Although the PP is riding high in the polls, largely because of the financial crisis, Rajoy will be a nervous man. He took over the leadership of the party from outgoing premier José María Aznar in 2004 and seemed favourite to win until the March 11 bombs in Madrid and the anger over the Iraq War railroaded his campaign. H was defeated at the polls just three days later.

Now PSOE will look for a new leader who will probably close the gap on the PP. The problem for Rajoy is he is not popular in the country and various polls have shown that even Zapatero was more liked on a personal basis. So could Rajoy and his party be robbed of the crown yet again?

The process to decide who faces him in 2012 will not start till after the town hall and some regional government elections on May 22. Zapatero said he was announcing his decision now to dispel any uncertainty but there would be no immediate campaigning for his job as everybody would be concentrating on the local and autonomous elections (not in Andalucía until 2012).

It is likely the committee to run the election for his successor will meet on May 28 and the process will be completed during the summer. However whoever emerges as the winner will be the leader in waiting as Zapatero is adamant he will lead the government till the end of its term.

So who will be the new leader? Two names are currently in the frame. The first, and probably favourite, is Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the new strong man of the government and first deputy premier. He is also the minister of the interior and has been at the heart of the battle again ETA. His likely challenger is also battle hardened. She is Carme Chacón, the first female defence minister and one who is rated as having made a success of the job.

Rubalcaba is considered by many as the only candidate capable of taking on the PP and winning. According to the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas poll Rubalcaba is the mostly highly rated member of the government but is intriguingly followed by Chacón in second place. The other question is – are the socialists and wider Spain ready for a female party leader and hence potential prime minister?

I blogged about Rubalcaba when he first showed in the opinion polls that he would be more popular than Zapatero dubbing his emergence as PSOE’s Gordon Brown moment. Rather than bottle it as the Labour Party in the UK did (to David Miliband’s cost) the Spanish socialists have set the beleaguered Zapatero aside and will go in to the general election with a new leader at the helm. Their hope now will be to win outright or at least win sufficient seats to form a coalition.

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