Spain's ruling Socialists begin leadership primaries
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero launched the primaries on Saturday to pick his successor as Socialist party leader, reiterating his support for his deputy Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba.
"Today we are starting the process to choose our candidate for the elections in 2012," the outgoing prime minister told his party's federal committee at a meeting in Madrid.
Zapatero, who announced in April that he would not seek a third mandate, threw his support on Friday night behind the 59-year-old Rubalcaba, his interior minister and official number two in government.
Defence Minister Carme Chacon, who had previously been interested in the post, announced Thursday that she had decided against being a candidate.
"Alfredo possesses all the qualities that the party needs at the moment: He is liked by the Socialists, respected by our adversaries and feared by the terrorists of ETA," Zapatero said, in reference to the Basque separatist movement.
Although the Socialists took a pounding in last weekend's local polls amid a wave of protests against recent austerity measures and rising unemployment, Zapatero nevertheless talked up his party's re-election prospects.
Referring to Rubalcaba's past as an accomplished sprinter, Zapatero said that "someone who is able to run 100 meters in just over 10 seconds is more than capable of winning an election in 10 months."
The prime minister also shouldered the blame for the disaster in the municipal elections last weekend when the Socialists captured just under 28 percent of the total compared with 37 percent for the opposition Popular Party.
"Our electoral defeat is my responsibility," said Zapatero, attributing it in large part to his government's unpopular decision to cut public sector salaries and end some assistance programmes in order to reduce debt levels.
"I was aware that it could cost me when I decided to adopt these measures," he said.
Recent opinion polls have predicted that the conservative Popular Party of Mariano Rajoy will enjoy a comfortable victory over the Socialists in elections due by next March.
© 2011 AFP