In the latest drama for the battered Socialists, Defense Minister Carme Chacón announced on Thursday that she won't run for Socialist Party secretary general to avoid driving a wedge among the membership and doing more damage to the government.
"I believe I should take a step back so that the Socialist Party can take a step forward," a somber Chacón told reporters at party headquarters. "It is my own, independent and personal decision," she added, explaining that she spoke to Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero about her plans.
The move now clears the way for the party to rally around Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who is seen as the Socialists' favorite candidate and the best bet to face the Popular Party (PP) in next year's general elections. If no other candidates come forward, party officials could give Rubalcaba their blessing on Saturday when the Socialist leadership is scheduled to meet.
Chacón's surprise withdrawal from the internal race to find Zapatero's successor was the latest in a series of hair-trigger incidents over the past few days that have racked the ruling Socialist Party since its crushing defeat in Sunday's regional and local elections.
Cracks in the party's core began to appear on Tuesday when Basque regional premier Patxi López called for a party congress to elect a new secretary general to follow Zapatero. His proposal was backed by several influential Socialist "barons" across the country, apart from Zapatero and his entourage, who want a party primary. Chacón had complained to Zapatero the following day that her chances of succeeding him if a congress were held would be slim. The issue is to be discussed on Saturday.
Chacón's decision won praise from many of her Socialist colleagues. Health Minister Leire Pajín called it "immense generosity." For his part, Zapatero declined to answer reporters who confronted him in Congress responding with a curt "yes" when asked if he had his party under control.