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Chacón lays down marker as possible Socialist leader at next election

Minister not ruling out bid if Zapatero resigns; says Spain ready for woman PM

Defense Minister Carme Chacón eluded the question of whether she wants to lead the Socialist party into next year's general elections, quoting former Spanish leader Felipe González to say that "one thing is to wish it and another for party members to want it."

Asked by journalists on Tuesday whether she would participate in hypothetical Socialist primaries to elect a candidate, Chacón stressed that if Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero chooses to run for a third term, she would "undoubtedly vote for him." The doubt Zapatero has deliberately allowed to grow over his candidacy has become a major issue for Socialists, with many observers convinced that Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, a party heavyweight, will take the prime minister's place at the head of the list.

Chacón admitted that the party is in a "tense" state, though not over questions of who will be their candidate, but simply because of the upcoming elections.

"It won't be me who alters the respect that Rodríguez Zapatero deserves," said Chacón, 39, who was housing minister and deputy speaker of Congress before being appointed Spain's first female defense minister, in April 2008. She also said it is "obvious" that Spain is prepared to accept a Catalan prime minister, just as it is ready to have a woman leading the executive.