Zapatero: “I Will Not Be a Candidate in the Next General Elections”

Zapatero: “I Will Not Be a Candidate in the Next General Elections”
“We may have made mistakes, but we’ve faced every challenge that was before us. We’re leaving it all on the battlefield in our daily struggle against the economic crisis,” the president said to the Federal Committee.
El País: Zapatero: “No voy a ser candidato en las próximas elecciones generales”
José Manuel Romero reporting from Madrid April 2, 2011

Zapatero, Rubalcaba, and Chacón in the first term
The President of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, during his first term. Behind him are his most likely successors, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba and Carme Chacón. Photo by Gorka Lejarcegi.

“I will not be a candidate in the next general elections,” the president of the Spanish government announced after about 30 minutes into a meeting of the federal committee of the Socialist Party (PSOE). José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said that he does not want there to be any more speculation about his future. “This certainly wasn’t an easy decision, but it’s better to make it now and put an end to uncertainty that could hinder our reform and employment efforts. We will continue respecting the times and due processes,” the secretary general of the PSOE has indicated.

Zapatero had begun his remarks by speaking of the European economy. “We may have made mistakes, but we’ve faced every challenge that was before us. We’re leaving it all on the battlefield in our daily struggle against the economic crisis,” he underlined, and he later praised the work of the Socialists with respect to the welfare state. Zapatero noted that the party has “maintained our social policies despite the seriousness of the crisis” and underlined the Dependent Care Law as one of the milestones of his two terms.

“I know that I can continue to count on you.” “I am at peace about not being a candidate in the general elections. I’m going to do what I always thought I should.”

After a prodigious decade in which the PSOE recuperated immense territories and consolidated important social reforms in Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero leaves his post vacant in the saddest circumstances imaginable: crushed under the weights of unemployment and despair.

Less than a year after concluding legislation during the worst economic crisis in the history of Spain and with rumors of imminent recovery, the president has communicated to the upper echelon of the PSOE that his time has passed and recused himself from running for a third time in 2012, something that nobody in his party had been discussing because of his terrible poll numbers.

After ten years of unanimous leadership marked by unquestionable electoral success, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has opened the debate over his successor in spite of his discernment of the power of money, which he advised should not be moved in times of crisis, and over the opposition of many of his compatriots who lifted him up in Nueva Vía and made him secretary general of the PSOE in 2000. These companions now feel like orphans abandoned to fate.

Zapatero has announced he will leave though no one with power or influence inside the party asked for it on account of his personal convictions. In recent weeks, many local and regional directors have called for him to resolve his Hamlet-like uncertainty over his political future. Mayors and governors wanted to avoid having their own elections become referenda on the president. Zapatero asked candidates to do their best to defend their support for him when rivals reproach them about national politics in the campaigns. The Popular Party, for its part, wants to convert May 22 into a test of “the president and the government of 4 million unemployed.” Esperanza Aguirre’s Madrid PP has reacted to Zapatero’s announcement by requesting he call national elections early.

Some of the PSOE directors support an accelerated search for the next leader, saying that if it’s done urgently – before the campaign begins on the 6th of May – then resolving succession and rapidly promoting a new candidate could inspire better results on election day that would put the brakes on what’s shaping up to be the worst defeat for the PSOE in recent times. Zapatero has appealed to the base of the PSOE to retake the battlefield in these elections to assure that the party is not lost.

As for the intra-party contest that will begin immediately, Zapatero has affirmed to the Federal Committee, the top organization besides Congress, that there will be primaries after the local elections in May. “The appointment,” added Zapatero, can be simple and easy, but there is not a resolved process for it in either the party or his own government. There will be a contest for sure. But Zapatero, the current leader of the party, has asked that the process should be as clean as possible, with “a common purpose” and the aim of “coming together” after the dispute “if there is more than one candidate.”

Only two possible candidates are now discernible in the PSOE, although it’s possible that a new Zapatero [a dark horse] will emerge. These two candidates are in the cabinet, and they have already indicated to the president that they will aspire to his post.

The person who has the most support from both the grass roots of the party and the secretary generals in the Autonomous Communities is Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. He has experience in almost every facet of the party, where he began working at a very young age and in which he has held almost every ministerial post besides President. When Zapatero raised him to vice president in 2010, everyone interpreted it as a signal of future succession.

The other person who everyone considers a contender is Carme Chacón, the Minister of Defense, whom Zapatero distinguished with a post that had never before been held by a women. Two or three of the 17 Socialist secretary generals would support her rather than Rubalcaba, and so would some who supported the President in his first assays as leader of the party.

The apparently logical decision after the surprising finish of Zapatero is to put a supported and protected king (Rubalcaba) and a free and powerful queen (Chacón) on the tableau to dispute the empty throne…or to negotiate it.

Ten years after becoming secretary general of the PSOE by just nine votes, six years after winning general elections against all prognostications after the worst terrorist attack in the history of Spain, four years after his attempt at dialogue with ETA ended with the group’s brutal attack on the new airport terminal in Barajas which killed two people, and almost a year of walking the tightrope of the threat of national bankruptcy after the attacks of the financial markets, Zapatero said that he leaves with the feeling that he has completed his crucial work of saving the country.

In that path to salvation, the president has sunk the electoral prospects of his party with economic decisions that they think have curtailed the people’s rights. In the last year, Zapatero has defended and approved the reduction of unemployment payments, and the extension of the retirement age and salary cuts for millions of government officials. In addition, the social advances he had consolidated over seven years regressed.

During that time, Zapatero has built an unforgettable legal legacy with important advances in the areas of rights (the Dependent Care Law, the Historical Memory Law, the Abortion Law) and equality (the Homosexual Marriage Law and the Equality Law).

In spite of all he has done, the president who considered it “debatable” that this is the worst economic crisis in the history of Spain is conscious that “the Zapatero effect” has dissolved among the four million unemployed the recession has left behind.

Some believe the chief of the executive branch had already thought, when he began his second term in 2008, that he would leave after this term, and that he’d decided when he would announce his future and what plans he would accomplish before then. Others understand that the president of the Government, loyal to his political party and to Spain, thinks his time has already passed and does not want to damage the PSOE’s electoral expectations. And so he is leaving. And no one can guess how this will affect the elections on May 22.

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