POLITICS

Andalusian PSOE installs neutral caretaker

Manuel Gracia heads conciliatory council in Seville

The Socialist Party (PSOE) in Andalusia on Monday night installed Manuel Gracia Navarro at the head of a caretaker administration in Seville after José Antonio Viera resigned on Sunday over a dispute on the preparation of party slates for the upcoming March 25 regional elections. Gracia was selected during a meeting between PSOE vice secretary general Elena Valenciano and the party secretary in Andalusia, Susana Díaz.

Gracia, who has served in the regional parliament for 30 years, is seen as a neutral figure able to steady the ship with the party in Andalusia divided between supporters of national secretary general Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba and former defense minister, Carme Chacón, who was narrowly beaten to the top job at the Socialist Party convention held in Seville earlier this month.

The other two members of the administration are Javier Fernández, a confidant of Viera and a supporter of Rubalcaba, and María José Fernández, the mayor of Lebrija who is aligned with Díaz and backed Chacón's bid for the party leadership. By these appointments the PSOE hopes to douse the flames of discontent caused by divisions resulting from the eventual election of Rubalcaba as party leader.

Viera described the source of the schism as "vetoes, interference and disloyalty over the personal and economic circumstances" of some of its members. Viera supported Rubalcaba at the convention, while regional premier José Antonio Griñán, who is standing for re-election in March, backed the former defense minister.

That clash between supporters of Rubalcaba and Chacón in the leadership race has spilled over into the regional sphere, with those loyal to Chacón attempting to exclude Rubalcaba's followers from the list. Viera, who resigned over "pressure" in drafting the Seville slate, has demanded an explanation as to why the crisis had been allowed to escalate from Griñán, who is standing in Seville with his longtime ally, Díaz, also a supporter of Chacón.

The national leadership has said it will not interfere with the regional slates. "Our only objective is that Pepe Griñán wins the election," PSOE vice secretary general Elena Valenciano, charged with quelling the feud, said. "The PSOE in Andalusia is working on the lists and we're sure it will work hard to win." Viera lamented in stepping down that many in the party are concerned more by where they might find themselves after the election than in trying to win it.

"The defeat of the PSOE in Andalusia is the defeat of the entire party and of Rubalcaba's administration," said sources at PSOE headquarters.

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