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Rubalcaba to mitigate damage as Zapatero goes up in flames

The mystery dominating Spanish politics in recent months seems to have been resolved: Zapatero won’t run for re-election. It could turn out to be the best decision he has taken in a long time.


So that’s that then. In the autumn, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero will announce his decision to make way for his interior minister, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, as Socialist candidate in the spring 2012 general elections.

Rubalcaba (left) would be an effective electoral gambit for the Socialists. Photo:

This, at least, is the theory that has taken hold in much of the mainstream Spanish media in recent days, with El Mundo, La Vanguardia, El Periódico and Público all subscribing to it on the strength of reports emerging from the Socialist camp. Iberosphere has heard similar reports from sources close to the prime minister, who also say Zapatero has informed at least four senior Socialists of his plans (and not just one, as the prime minister has claimed).

Rubalcaba has become an increasingly influential figure in the government in recent months, culminating in his promotion to deputy prime minister in October, a role he fills in tandem with the ministerial post. And while Zapatero burns what remains of his political capital to the wick by implementing unpopular and painful reforms, Rubalcaba is managing to keep his own powder dry, ready to emerge as candidate a few months ahead of the election.

“Zapatero has shown he is prepared to go up in flames,” one senior Socialist source told La Vanguardia’s Juan Carlos Merino, in explanation of this theory.

The image of a self-immolating, reformist Zapatero sacrificing himself to ensure the country safely navigates through the stormy waters of market speculation and recession was an unlikely one just a few months ago. But enough has changed since to convince him that standing aside is the only option. Or rather, as far as the polls are concerned, not enough has changed, with the Popular Party’s double-digit lead refusing to dip substantially.

According to José Juan Toharia, of polling firm Metroscopia, over half of Socialist voters hope Zapatero will not run in 2012. However, Toharia sees the recent social pact with unions on key issues such as pensions reform as being positive for the government’s image (despite its failure to inform other parties of the accord in a reasonable way). Moreover, he believes a Rubalcaba candidacy could even make the general election a tight affair.

“The Socialists probably won’t recover all of their voters from three years ago, but they could recover part of that vote and they could well diminish the gap – the 14-point difference could turn out to be seven or six points,” he told Iberosphere.

But while the mystery over whether Zapatero will stand and when he will announce his decision appears to have been resolved, it is still not clear if he will endorse Rubalcaba for the candidacy, or his protégé and defence minister, Carme Chacón. While the 39-year-old Chacón has been tipped for great things in the future, she doesn’t enjoy the kind of recognition and popularity the interior minister does. If she did lead the party in 2012 and crashed to a heavy defeat, it would hardly be the best way to start her career in the big league. The veteran Rubalcaba, meanwhile, would be more likely to mitigate the electoral damage before handing the reins over to a younger figure like Chacón. Of course, Zapatero will only endorse – it is the party that must decide.

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Published: Feb 4 2011
Category: Politics
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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