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Socialists to unveil formula for leadership race

Members with backing of 15 percent of central committee will be able to stand

Still hurting from its worst performance in a general election since Spain's return to democracy, the Socialist Party (PSOE) is due Saturday to present the arrangements for replacing outgoing Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as the group's secretary general at a congress due to take place in February.

Party sources said Friday the formula chosen will likely mirror that of the congress held in July 2000, in which Zapatero beat out three other candidates to emerge as head of the party.

The congress will also set the lines to be taken by the PSOE as the now main opposition in party in parliament after its resounding defeat to the conservative Popular Party, which won an absolute majority in the November 20 vote. The Socialists' haul of only 110 seats was its lowest since democracy was restored in 1978.

Zapatero did not stand in the elections, with the party led by the former interior minister, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. The rules for the leadership race allow party members who secure the backing of 15 percent of the members of the PSOE's federal committee to present themselves as "pre-candidates" for secretary general.

Separately, PSOE deputy secretary general, José Blanco, said Friday he would step back from the front line of the party "to open room for other people."