Spanish Socialists Clear Leadership Deck Prior to Elections

Spanish Premier Jose Zapatero will step down prior to the next elections hoping that this well help his Socialist Party stave off defeat.

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Amiel Ungar, | updated: 10:21

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero


In order to demonstrate that it is different than its Iberian neighbor Portuga,l Spain has undertaken severe austerity measures. However, austerity brings a great deal of pain in the short run and Spanish Premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has paid the price in terms of popularity. He has now announced that he will not be seeking reelection.

Ostensibly the reason is that he has had enough, but the real reason is that his Spanish Socialist Party the PSOE would like to present a fresh face before going to regional polls this year and national elections next year. Given Spain's 20% unemployment rate, the party badly trails its rival the Popular Party.

Arguably, the Zapatero government was the farthest to the left amongst the major European governments. It was elected in 2004 in a large measure as a reaction to the Al-Qaeda bombing of the Madrid train station prior to elections. Zapatero has tried to launch a Dialogue of Civilizations his response to a Clash of Civilizations between the Moslem and Christian World.

He has angered the Catholic Church by moving to disestablish it and simultaneously loosening up abortion and divorce laws. Adoption by single sex couples has similarly been expedited. In historical terms, he has revived investigations into Spain's Civil War period and the Franco regime when the previous Socialist Government of Felipe Gonzalez preferred to leave the matter be, fearing that it would damage national reconciliation.

This aroused controversy, but it was the collapse of the Spanish economy following the housing bubble that did him in.

The two favorites to succeed him are both professors: The favorite is the 59 year old Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior. A professor of chemistry, he joined the PSOE in the dying days of the Franco regime when the party was still officially illegal. He served in the Gonzalez government and was credited with managing the party's campaign in 2004 and restoring it to power.

As interior minister, he chaperoned the peace negotiations with the Basque separatists and their terrorist organization ETA. When ETA broke the truce, he waged a hard-line campaign against it. Rubacalba brings with him an ability to unite the party, having served under both Gonzalez and Rubacalba, as well as negotiation skills for talks with the minor coalition partners.

His rival is Carmen Chacon, the 40-year-old defense minister, a professor of constitutional law. Chacon grew up under the restored Spanish Republic rather than under the Franco dictatorship. She is from Barcelona, from where she received her doctorate, but she also did graduate work in the United Kingdom and Canada.

Her doctoral dissertation was on Canadian federalism. This is an intriguing point in her resume, as she represents Catalonia that is striving for a greater autonomy within Spain. She is familiar with the finer points of federalism. She can be expected to poll well in her wealthy region. The question is how the rest of Spain will react to this and with the fact that she would be the first woman to be nominated for the leadership by one of Spain's 2 major parties.