Spain's Rubalcaba named to lead Socialists into elections

9th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, chosen as new leader of Spain's Socialists, promised to tackle crippling unemployment and to listen to "the street" as he took charge Saturday of a party most predict will lose the next general election.

Rubalcaba, 56, resigned from government Friday after serving as both interior minister and deputy prime minister, saying he wanted to fully commit to reviving a party widely abandoned by supporters in protest over grim economic conditions.

"Spain is going through a difficult moment that requires serious commitment and that is why I'm here. I think I can be useful to my country," he said in an hour-long speech Saturday that broadly outlined his left-of-centre political vision.

While mixing in characteristic moments of humour, Rubalcaba said Spain's "urgent priority was to create jobs."

Spain's jobless rate hit 21.29 percent earlier this year, the highest in the industrialised world.

Unveiling a flagship proposal, he said banks must "devote some of their profits to job creation."

He said the plan will particularly benefit the country's youth, who have been hit hardest by the employment crisis, with 45 percent of people aged 16-24 unable to find work.

Unemployed youths have joined other disgruntled groups in a massive protest movement that has rocked the country in recent weeks.

Rubalcaba insisted that the protesters who camped out in central Madrid and demonstrated on streets around the country to voice frustration over joblessness and deep spending cuts must not be ignored by political leaders.

"We must listen to what the street is telling us and act accordingly," he said.

While respecting the voices of the protesters, Rubalcaba also said he "will require more austerity" and that he would pursue further budget cutting reforms.

He also insisted he would not be guided by the dictatorship of markets.

"There are people who think that policy has lost the battle and that markets will do what they want," he said, insisting that "it is policy that will solve our problems."

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will not seek a third term as Socialist leader in elections due by March, but which some political analysts suggest could be called earlier in November.

Zapatero has backed Rubalcaba to lead the party into the vote.

Polls had consistently shown Rubalcaba, who has a doctorate in chemistry, as the most respected member of Zapatero's cabinet.

But despite his personal appeal, the Socialists' chances in the next elections are considered slim.

The party was crushed in local polls in May, when a huge swathe of the electorate, furious over Spain's economic crisis, abandoned the Socialists and gave more support to the conservative Popular Party of Mariano Rajoy, which is expected to romp into office after eight years in opposition.

Rubalcaba earned respect as interior minister for taking a tough stance against the armed Basque separatist group ETA, blamed for more than 800 deaths in some four decades of fighting.

As party spokesman just after Zapatero's first 2004 election, his negotiating skills in the corridors of parliament helped the ruling Socialists secure the support of minority parties.

© 2011 AFP

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