Rubalcaba: Spain's battle-hardened Socialist candidate

14th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

The Socialist candidate for prime minister in Sunday's general election, Alfredo Perez Rublacaba, is a battle-tested leader who gained his popularity in the fight against the Basque separatist group ETA.

A gifted orator who has spent his entire career with the Socialist Party, he was seen as the candidate with the best chance to limit the drubbing polls suggest the party will suffer at the hands of the conservative Popular Party (PP).

PP leader Mariano Rajoy was defeated by Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in 2004 and 2008 but with Spain's unemployment rate sitting at 21.52 percent his party is far ahead in the polls this time round.

In April Zapatero, his popularity in the doldrums, announced he would not stand in the next general election.

Rubalcaba, considered one of the party's wiliest operators, was designated the Socialist Party's candidate for general elections after Defence Minister Carme Chacon, who represents the party's younger guard, bowed out.

Rubalcaba "has always been a reference in all governments which he belonged to. For many, he is the ideal leader in this situation," said Anton Losada, political science professor at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.

Born the son of an airline pilot on July 28, 1951 at Solares in northern Spain, Rubalcaba began his career as a chemistry professor in Madrid after graduating top of his class.

He taught at universities in Montpellier in France and Konstanz in Germany before turning to politics.

Despite having studied at the elite Madrid high school "del Pilar", a bastion of the right, he chose to get involved with the Socialist Party in 1974 when the right-wing dictatorship of General Francisco Franco was crumbling.

When Felipe Gonzalez became prime minister in 1982, Rubalcaba entered the education ministry. He became education minister 10 years later.

But it was above all in his role of government spokesman between 1994-96 that he impressed with his ability to handle political scandals, such as the creation of GAL state-sponsored death squads under Gonzalez's government which was held responsible for the deaths of 28 Basque separatists between 1983-87.

As interior minister under Zapatero from 2006, Rubalcaba presided over a series of arrests of ETA leaders which helped boost his popularity.

Zapatero alluded to Rubalcaba's athletic prowess to express his confidence that he could overcome the discouraging poll numbers in a short amount of time and win the election.

"Rubalcaba, a sprinter who was capable of running 100 metres in a little over 10 seconds, is capable of winning an election in 10 months," he said.

Rubalcaba's critics see him as a "Machiavellian" figure and "dark genius", as centre-right newspaper El Mundo wrote in a highly critical profile.

"Even within his party, he succeeded in killing a lot of people politically," said Jose Maria Ridao, a columnist of centre-left daily newspaper El Pais.

The bald and bearded Rubalcaba, who is married without children and who says he only sleeps five hours a night, already has plans for his retirement.

He said during the campaign that it would be "fun" to join the management of Real Madrid football club.

© 2011 AFP

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