Spanish Socialist Party to choose its new leader

The two leading candidates, Madina and Sánchez, offer generational change

Outgoing leader Alfredo Pérez: one of many senior PSOE figures who have held posts within the party since the early years of Spain’s democratic era. Photograph: Reuters/Andrea Comas

Outgoing leader Alfredo Pérez: one of many senior PSOE figures who have held posts within the party since the early years of Spain’s democratic era. Photograph: Reuters/Andrea Comas

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:00

Spain’s main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) will choose a new leader this Sunday in an attempt to recover the voters and credibility it has lost in recent years.

The two leading candidates competing for the leadership both hold seats in Congress and are offering a generational change at the top of the party: Eduardo Madina (38), a Basque university teacher whose volleyball career was curtailed when an Eta bomb blew his leg off in 2002, and Pedro Sánchez (42), a telegenic Madrid-born economist.

The third candidate, Andalusian university professor José Antonio Pérez Tapias (59), is seen as the most radical contender and the least likely to triumph.

He is also the only one of the three who has ruled out combining the Socialist leadership with becoming the party’s candidate in next year’s general election, a choice it is scheduled to make in November.

Whoever wins this Sunday will have to overhaul a party which has haemorrhaged votes in recent years, culminating in a disastrous EU election result in May. The PSOE has lost the support of much of its working-class base and been outflanked by more radical parties, such as the United Left (IU) and the new political sensation Podemos. It is flagging in the polls despite the unpopularity of the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy.

“The PSOE is a wasteland,” noted political commentator Josep Ramoneda. “It needs new ideas, new faces, new organisation and a new political project.”

Many of the PSOE’s senior figures, including outgoing leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, have held posts within the party since the early years of the democratic era. In the eyes of many Spaniards this has cultivated complacency and distanced the party from the electorate.

The negative legacy of the Socialist administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who governed until 2011 and is widely blamed for misjudging the early stages of the economic crisis, still clings.

With trust in political parties at an all-time low, one of the priorities of the candidates in this leadership campaign has been to distance themselves from the discredited PSOE “machine” – the traditional party apparatus.

On Monday, the three candidates took part in a debate on the party’s main policy concerns, such as Catalonia’s separatist plans, the future of the monarchy, rising inequality and corruption.

There were few surprises during it and for the most part, there was little discernible difference in policy content.

However, the cordial tone of the debate contrasted with the note of bitterness that has entered the campaign in recent days, following the revelation that until 2009, Mr Sánchez had held a political post in the general assembly of Caja Madrid, one of the most notoriously mismanaged banks during the economic crisis.

Mr Sánchez insists he had never hidden the fact and that he had no influence on the bank’s now infamous business decisions. However, the development prompted him to rebuke what he described as “dark arts” in the campaign.

In Valencia on Thursday, he called on his fellow Socialists “to be conscious of the importance for Spain that the PSOE comes out of this process well – and coming out well means coming out renewed and united”.