Spain's interior minister quits to fight general election
Spain's interior minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, resigned Friday to lead the Socialist Party in an uphill battle to retain power in general elections due in March 2012.
He is the sole candidate to lead the Socialists into the elections, which the conservative opposition Popular Party is expected to win by a landslide in the midst of a deep economic crisis.
"I have informed the government of my desire to leave the government and to do so immediately," Rubalcaba, who is also deputy prime minister, told a regular weekly news conference.
The 59-year-old minister, who was a sprinter as a young man, becomes the Socialist's candidate for prime minister in 2012 elections at a party meeting Saturday, considered to be just a formality.
Rubalcaba said there was no legal obstacle to him carrying on in government even while preparing to fight the election.
But "I would not be able to dedicate to the government all of the commitment that is required", he added.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will not seek a third term as leader in the next election and has backed Rubalcaba to lead the party into the fray.
Zapatero will name a new interior minister within the next few days, possibly as early as this weekend, Rubalcaba said.
The prime minister had known of his decision to leave the government "for a long time", he added.
Polls consistently show Rubalcaba is the most respected member of Zapatero's cabinet.
But the party's chances are nevertheless considered slim.
Voters crushed the Socialists in local polls in May.
A huge swathe of the electorate abandoned the party in revenge for a towering unemployment rate of more than 21 percent and austerity measures which have sparked a nationwide protest movement.
Rubalcaba earned respect as interior minister for taking a tough stance against armed Basque separatists ETA, blamed for nearly 830 deaths in more than four decades of fighting.
The seasoned politician was placed in intensive care for three days in March for a urinary tract infection believed to have been caused by a prostate biopsy.
Zapatero named Rubalcaba as party spokesman after he was first elected in 2004, surprising many who expected he would be given a post with more responsibility.
But his negotiating skills in the corridors of parliament helped the ruling Socialists secure the support of minority parties.
He also played a major role in negotiations to draw up a proposal for a new Catalan statute that gave the northeastern region of Spain greater powers.
Rubalcaba has a doctorate in chemistry from Madrid's Complutense University where he went on to become a professor.
Born in northern Spain, he is married and an avid Real Madrid supporter.
© 2011 AFP