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Roll up, roll up, for the Socialist horror show

The Spanish Socialist Party has just suffered its heaviest election defeat ever. But with internal strife finally bubbling over, things can still get worse.

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Putting on a brave face: Chacón, Rubalcaba and Zapatero share a joke.

“In the last few days, the party’s unity, the authority of the prime minister and party leader, our collective image as a party, and even the stability of the government have all been put at risk.” This was the verdict of Defence Minister Carme Chacón on Thursday, as she made the surprise announcement that she will not be standing as a candidate in Socialist Party primaries to choose a new candidate for the general election.

It’s shocking to hear a senior Socialist politician speak in such starkly honest terms, but her words reflect how bad things have got for the party.

It’s been a truly torrid week for the Socialists. First, they are one of the main targets of nationwide protests by the 15-M grassroots movement. Then Black Sunday almost wipes the party off the municipal and regional electoral map. And after that, the party can’t agree on how to choose its general election candidate to replace Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Zapatero himself had already expressed a preference for a “primary”, that is, a straightforward vote that would leave him as party leader for the moment, but which would give the party a fresh face to fight the spring 2012 campaign. Zapatero protégé Chacón and veteran Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba were the much-touted contenders.

Et tu, Patxi?

But on Tuesday, Basque Socialist leader Patxi López publicly announced he believed the party needed not a primary, but a full-blown extraordinary convention to rethink its policies and elect a new leadership. Zapatero tried to quell the “conventionist” talk and insisted a primary was still the preferred process. But the cat was out of the bag – the party is not united on this issue.

Political pollster José Juan Toharia of Metroscopia told Iberosphere that whatever process they end up using, a Socialist “civil war” is not out of the question. “They are really in a predicament. I think they are in a very, very, very dangerous situation,” he said.

The intrigue behind the scenes is complex. Some are reading Chacón’s speech as an accusation aimed at her would-be rival Rubalcaba, who has been fingered as the agitator behind the López “coup”. López, of course, like many senior Socialists, has a roomful of baggage when it comes to Zapatero. In his case, the prime minister has negotiated over his head with the PNV Basque nationalists to ensure stability in Congress in Madrid. If he harboured a grudge, this was a good way to get back at Zapatero: a convention would strip the prime minister of the party leadership and relegate him to irrelevance.

There will be blood

The threat of a convention also favoured Rubalcaba’s alleged ambitions. As a close ally of the prime minister, Chacón clearly preferred the cosmetic surgery of a primary, rather than the open-heart intervention that a convention would imply.

But perhaps López was simply acting out of sheer political common sense and loyalty to his Socialist roots (if not loyalty to his boss in Madrid). After all, the May 22 election was the clearest possible message that the party has lost its way.

The road is apparently now clear for the savvy Rubalcaba to take the candidacy and lead the party into the elections, in a strange cohabitation with party leader Zapatero. But even if it is as simple as that, there will still be plenty more blood in this particular horror show.





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Published: May 27 2011
Category: Uncategorized
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=2944
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