Nobody in the ranks of the Socialist Party (PSOE) knows exactly when primaries - which will determine the prime ministerial candidate for the 2015 general elections - will take place. There is, as secretary general of the Castilla-La Mancha branch, Emiliano García-Page, said this week, a "difference of opinion" in the hierarchy. There are many options - the spring or autumn of 2014, or even the following year - but all carry pros and cons; whichever candidate comes out on top will need time to prepare to take on the Popular Party candidate, but equally they will not benefit by arriving at the general elections with their political capital already spent.
PSOE leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba has been unable to evade the question of primaries practically since he stepped into the role 20 months ago. But other than García-Page, nobody in the party's top echelon has publicly suggested a date.
"While there is concern about what the PSOE is doing, it is a symptom that people want to believe in us again," said García-Page on Tuesday. "I have always felt that the pressure on the PSOE is inversely proportional to the disappointment people feel about the government."
The concern about what we are doing means people want to believe in us"
On Sunday, Rubalcaba was placed on the spot once more during a Young Socialists conference in Bilbao, where he appeared alongside former regional premier Patxi López, one of his potential rivals for the party leadership. One of the attendees took the microphone and called for "primaries now," to applause from the audience. García-Page believes the vote should be held before the European elections next May, or "with sufficient time before the municipal and regional elections" a year later. "We don't want to leave it too late," he said.
The matter was not discussed at a meeting of PSOE leaders in Toledo this week, according to those present. Eduardo Madina, the PSOE congressional leader and another aspirant for Rubalcaba's chair, stated primaries should be convened "with enough time so that the person elected has a sufficient margin ahead of the general elections," which must be held before November 2015.
Rubalcaba elected not to respond to the many questions posed after Sunday's conference in Bilbao, limiting himself to saying that primaries would be held "when the time comes." The PSOE leader alluded to the system generally observed in Italy and the US, when such ballots are staged "six months before [general] elections."
That stance was the one taken by the party leadership in December 2012, when party national secretary Óscar López stated: "The PSOE is only worried about the problems of Spain and the Spanish people. Those who are thinking about their personal aspirations are mistaken. The PSOE will hold open primaries. It will do so months before the elections; what we will not do is have the primaries open for four years."
That timeframe allows former defense minister in the Zapatero administration, Carme Chacón, plenty of time to stage a political comeback after announcing a sabbatical in August to teach in the US. Chacón, who stood against Rubalcaba in the last PSOE primaries after the crushing election defeat of November 2011, is viewed by many as the party's future.
"I had a project based on generational renewal," Chacón, 42, said before leaving for the US. "That remains valid, valid both for Spanish socialism and for the Spanish political system. My intention is to contribute to that as soon as possible. My party has other plans and a calendar that I do not share."