Spain's interior minister quits to run for PM in polls

8th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Spain's interior minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, resigned Friday to wage an uphill battle to become Socialist Party prime minister in general elections due by 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 Socialists' candidate for prime minister in 2012 elections at a party meeting Saturday that is 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.

Although elections are due by March 2012, some Spanish media have said that Socialist Party officials and members of the government are preparing for a possible early election in November.

Zapatero has repeatedly said he wants to stay to the end of his term to see through reforms to the battered economy.

Rubalcaba was placed in intensive care for three days in March for a urinary tract infection believed to have been caused by a prostate biopsy.

The seasoned politician 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.

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.

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

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