Spain's ruling Socialists may call early elections: Reports

AFP , Monday 13 Jun 2011

Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero may call for early elections in case of continued political and economic unrest

Spain's economic crisis and political instability could push the ruling Socialist Party into calling elections four months early in November, Spanish media said Monday.

Senior party officials and members of the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero are preparing for such a scenario, the newspapers El Pais and El Mundo said.

But the final decision will be up to Zapatero, El Mundo said.

The prime minister has said repeatedly he does not intend to move forward the elections, scheduled for March 2012, because he wants to see through reforms to the battered economy.

The main opposition, the conservative Popular Party, has been pushing for early elections since its crushing victory over the Socialists in regional and municipal polls on 22 May.

Socialist party heavyweight Jose Maria Barreda, the outgoing president of the regional government of Castilla-La Mancha, said Monday early elections may be appropriate.

"If the situation continues to be as extraordinarily complicated as it is then bringing forward the elections may be advisable," said Barreda, who was beaten by the PP in last month's elections.

But Employment Minister Valeriano Gomez insisted the government was committed to elections in early 2012.

"It must be clearly stated that our programme is a programme to finish the legislature sometime around March," he told a news conference.

"The return from (the Christmas break) is when the parliament should be dissolved and an election held, at the end of February or the beginning of March. That is our idea, and our programme has not changed.

The PP is ready to govern "now, in the autumn or in March", said the party's secretary general Maria Dolores de Cospedal, adding that it was time for Spanish politics "to make an about-turn".

The centre-left El Pais daily said the combination of an economic crisis, instability in parliament, social unease and declining support for Zapatero could force November elections.

Unemployment, the highest in the industrialised world at more than 21 percent in the first quarter of 2011, traditionally falls in the summer due to seasonal work contracts, which could give the Socialists a boost.

But other arguments back the holding of elections in March, including the government's determination to move forward with its economic reforms and a need to let as much time pass as possible following the rout in local elections.

If elections are scheduled for November, there is unlikely to be an announcement before September. Until then, Zapatero will continue to affirm that he intends to see out his mandate, said El Pais.

Zapatero, who was first elected in March 2004, announced in April he would not seek a third term.

He heads a minority government that must seek the support of smaller parties in order to pass legislation.

Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, 59, one of the most powerful figures in the government, is in line to replace him as the party's candidate to face PP leader Mariano Rajoy.

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