POLITICS

An emotional farewell for opposition leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba

Socialist politician given standing ovation after announcing he will return to his job as a lecturer

Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba is given a standing ovation in Congress.
Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba is given a standing ovation in Congress.Zipi / EFE

After 21 years as a deputy in Congress, the general secretary of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, announced on Thursday that he would be leaving politics and returning to work as a university lecturer.

Rubalcaba had already announced that he would be stepping down as party leader, after suffering a crushing defeat at the general elections in 2011, and poor results in the recent European polls. He will officially leave his seat in September, and then shortly after return to teach at the Organic Chemistry faculty at the Complutense University in Madrid.

“I hope that you miss me as much as I will miss you,” Rubalcaba joked with journalists in Congress on Thursday, smiling and apparently without too much sadness. But that was not surprising, given that he had already told several key figures – including King Juan Carlos – of his decision three months ago.

I hope that you miss me as much as I will miss you,” Rubalcaba joked with journalists

There were, however, tears in the veteran politician’s eyes when his fellow deputies gave him a standing ovation in Congress. “We say farewell to Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba with great sadness,” said congressional speaker Jesús Posada. “He will always be remembered as a great parliamentary figure.” It was those words that led to the applause.

Speaking in Brussels, Popular Party Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had kind words for Rubalcaba on Friday morning. “The Socialist Party is losing a very important asset, and Spanish politics is too,” Rajoy told reporters. “For many years he has been an important politician in our country, he has my respect and esteem, and in the last stage [of his career], with major issues such as this one [in reference to the European Union], he has always had a very positive and very constructive attitude with Spain.”

Sources close to the PM are not hiding their concern over the loss of a privileged interlocutor for Rajoy

Sources at La Moncloa prime ministerial palace are not hiding their concern over the loss of someone who has been a privileged interlocutor for Rajoy on major matters of state – from the abdication of King Juan Carlos, to the drive for sovereignty in Catalonia. Despite the differences between the pair, they managed to keep the lines of communication open, with frequent conversations that were rarely made public.

The end of a political career

Rubalcaba arrived in Congress in 1993, and since then has served as a member of parliament in all legislatures. During the administration of Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (2004 to 2011), Rubalcaba was a trusted pair of hands, occupying the roles of spokesman for the PSOE parliamentary group, deputy prime minister and interior minister.

Under Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González he had also served as minister of education and science, from 1992 to 1993.

In February 2012 he took on the leadership of the PSOE, beating out former defense minister Carme Chacón in an internal poll at a party meeting in Seville. He announced his resignation on May 26, after assuming responsibility for the defeat at the European elections.

After announcing his resignation, Rubalcaba posted a message on his Facebook account saying that in September, he would be bringing to an end “a long and intense stage” of his life, in which he has dedicated “his body and soul” to politics.

“I never thought that this would last so long, but I have always thought that the decision I took more than 30 years ago was worth the effort,” he wrote. He left university, he continued, “motivated by principles and values,” to which he will continue being “faithful” now that he is returning to his “first vocation.”