Leading Socialist denies "fight" over Zapatero successor

Senate leader bids to stem speculation over possible leadership contest as Socialists slide in polls

The current unease within the Socialist party over the 2012 elections is "not a fight," said Senate speaker Javier Rojo, speaking to the press on Monday.

"There is a debate," he conceded, "but we need not be alarmed."

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, currently on a trip to the Middle East and Tunisia, has so far refused to confirm or deny whether he will run for a third term in 2012. With elections now a little over a year away, there are murmurings that the uncertainty is causing the Socialists to lose even further political ground to the main opposition Popular Party.

Rojo underlined his belief that Zapatero is "the best candidate" for reelection in 2012. "Despite difficulties," he said, Zapatero will be known as having introduced elements of modernization to Spain.

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"Above all," Rojo said, "that man is progressive."

Opposition leader Mariano Rajoy of the PP told reporters in January he is confident he will be running against current Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba next year. "Spain is thirsty for elections," Rajoy added.

Rojo praised Rubalcaba as having an "impressive career path," but remarked that he "could say the same" of Defense Minister Carme Chacón, "if it were truly a discussion of Zapatero's succession." Chacón dropped a heavy hint last week that she may be interested in competing in an eventual primary contest for the party's leadership.

Regional leaders consulted by this newspaper said that should he choose to run again, Zapatero would find undivided support within the Socialist Party. In the event that he does not, leaders said Socialist support would shift accordingly, to his deputy.

Yet the latest polls show the Popular Party firmly gripping majority support in Andalusia, where Socialists leaders have maintained office for 30 years but whose position is now under threat ahead of May's regional elections. The polls report 47.5 percent of the population in favor of the PP, well above the 35 percent support reported for the Socialists in the region.

Rubalcaba, Zapatero and Chacón attending a military parade in Madrid.
Rubalcaba, Zapatero and Chacón attending a military parade in Madrid.CLAUDIO ÁLVAREZ
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