Carme Chacón muddies waters over Zapatero succession plan

Defense Minister proposes primaries should Socialist leader stand aside

The defense minister's recent statements regarding a possible successor to José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as prime ministerial candidate for the 2012 elections has caused a stir in Socialist circles. Carme Chacón fanned the flames of speculation this week when she said that party members should elect the new candidate in primaries, rather than the appointment being made by a small committee, should Zapatero choose not to run for a third term.

Observers considered it an indication that Chacón, one of the favorites to succeed the prime minister in the Socialist bid for office, is in fact interested in running herself. But on Tuesday she told journalists that it is not sufficient to want to run, but that other party members must want the candidate to run too.

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The Socialist Party has been rife with internal debate over Zapatero's refusal to say whether he will run again or not. The best-placed party members to succeed him, most people feel, are Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, and Chacón herself.

Although the matter has been kept within closed doors for the most part, a few high-profile Socialists made public statements on Wednesday. The Speaker of the House, José Bono, said that "it is necessary and legitimate for ministers, like the defense chief, to want to be the next Socialist leader and succeed Zapatero, should he decide not to run in the next elections."

The premier of Extremadura, Guillermo Fernández Vara- who expressed his preference for Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba just a few days ago- on Wednesday said that Chacón "is a woman who will have great relevance" inside the party and in the future of Spain. "She is ready for the responsibility of leading the government, just as the country is perfectly prepared for a woman to lead Spain," he said.

"Ready for any leader"

Alfonso Guerra, who was deputy prime minister under Felipe González, said that "Spain is ready for any leader, male or female."

Yet some sources in Socialist circles criticized Chacón for hastening the debate on Zapatero's hypothetical succession. Meanwhile, spokespeople at La Moncloa, the seat of government, refused to comment. "The government is focusing on its reform policies to deal with the crisis, and is not engaging in these debates," said a source.

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Carme Chacón, during a meeting of the National Defense Council.
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Carme Chacón, during a meeting of the National Defense Council.LUIS SEVILLANO
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