Spain's battered Socialists fight over leadership

AFP , Wednesday 25 May 2011

Infighting has broken out among Spain's ruling Socialists over how to choose a new leader after their humiliating rout in local elections

Spain's main opposition leader Mariano Rajoy (R) asks Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (not pictured) a question during the weekly question session in parliament in Madrid, (Reuters).

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

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.
"The Socialists erupt," headlined the left-leaning newspaper Publico on Wednesday.

The elections of "May 22 have torn apart the Socialist Party," said the conservative ABC daily.

Spain's Socialists received an unprecented mauling in regional and municipal elections by the conservative opposition Popular Party as voters vented their anger over soaring unemployment and a beleaguered economy.

After eight years in opposition, PP leader Mariano Rajoy is widely expected to romp into office in general elections scheduled for March 2012.

In the wake of the Socialists' defeat, the party's leader in the Basque Country, Patxi Lopez, called late on Tuesday for a congress of elected party members that would decide on one candidate for the leadership.

The congress would be held by the end of the year, to give time "to launch a debate within our party that involves the entire membership to correct mistakes and define ... a project to revitalize the values of the left, to make progress in overcoming the economic crisis and job creation," he said.

Primaries "cannot be the answer we give to the citizens after" Sunday's election defeat, he said, vowing to present his proposal to the Socialists' federal committee meeting on Saturday.

A number of senior party members backed the call for a congress, while others favoured primaries but with one single candidate up for approval, Spanish media said.

Defence Minister Carme Chacon, who is widely reported to be seeking the top job, told Zapatero on Tuesday that she was opposed to the idea of a congress, Spain's leading daily El Pais said.

Chacon, 40, who has had a meteoric rise through the party and is believed to have strong support among the grassroots, is expected to face Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, 59, one of the most powerful figures in the government, in any primary.

"Party barons want to force a congress that would block any chance of Chacon," said the Barcelona-based paper La Vanguardia.

In Sunday's elections, the Socialists captured just under 28 percent of the total compared to 37 percent for 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 packed city squares throughout the country for the past 10 days, refusing to budge as they accused the major Spanish parties of leading Spain to economic ruin.

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