Rival to Spain's deputy PM drops bid for party leadership

26th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Defence Minister Carme Chacon said Thursday she will not stand as a candidate for the leadership of Spain's ruling Socialists, leaving the way open for Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba to take the post.

Chacon, 40, said she had initially decided to run but changed her mind in order to avoid a spat within the party over the best way to pick a successor to Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to lead the party in elections next year.

Zapatero announced last month he would not seek a third mandate, and the process for choosing his successor is set to begin on Saturday.

"I have taken the decision to not take part in primary elections to choose the next Socialist Party candidate," Chacon told a news conference.

"I feel that today I must take a step backwards so that the Socialist Party can take a step forward. Over the past few days we have witnessed an escalating debate which puts the unity of the party at risk," she added.

Infighting had erupted among the Socialists over how to choose a new leader after the party's humiliating rout in local elections on Sunday.

The prime minister had called for internal primaries in which all 220,000 party members have a say on their next leader.

But, at the last moment, dissenters called for a congress of between 500 and 2,000 elected party members to rethink party strategy and decide on a single candidate.

Chacon, 40, who became Spain's first female minister of defence when she was sworn in in April 2008 when she was seven months pregnant, is popular with younger voters.

Her withdrawal from the race leaves the way open for Rubalcaba, 59, who is also interior minister, to be the only candidate for the post.

After eight years in opposition, the conservative Popular Party of Mariano Rajoy is widely expected to romp into office in general elections scheduled by March 2012.

Spain's Socialists received an unprecedented mauling in regional and municipal elections by the PP.

Support for the government collapsed in the face of the beleaguered economy, the highest unemployment rate in the developed world at more than 21 percent and huge week-long street protests.

Demonstrators have occupied city squares throughout the country for the past 11 days, refusing to budge as they accused the major Spanish parties of leading Spain to economic ruin.

© 2011 AFP

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