The dust has barely settled following Sunday's crushing defeat for the PSOE in the municipal and regional elections, and the party is in turmoil over how to select their new leader. Nobody has yet declared themselves as a candidate, and this seems to be because of the behind the scenes manoeuvres to either try and avoid a contest or to keep the choice of Zapatero's successor in as few hands as possible.
It's been known for some time that those who favour the interior minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba have been looking for ways to force their candidate into pole position. What they fear most of all is a primary election process which could potentially see Rubalcaba lose out to another candidate; the most likely contender being the defence minister Carme Chacón. The argument they use is that this process would create too much uncertainty.
So we've had the idea floated of a "dream ticket" where of course Rubalcaba would be number one with Chacón as his deputy, presumably in return for a promise that the older Rubalcaba would stand aside in the event of an election defeat. Some have argued that there could still be a process of primary elections, but with only one candidate! Even this seems to be too much for some powerful figures in the party who have been pressing for the primaries to be avoided and for a decision on the succession to be taken more quickly by the party's executive or by a special congress. The latter idea was floated yesterday by the Basque regional president Patxi Lopez.
It looks as if those who are trying to prevent primaries may have jumped the gun, Zapatero has stated today that there will be a primary election process involving the party's members. In such a situation the question arises of whether there might be other candidates. Zapatero himself stood as a virtual unknown when he was elected via the primaries. Perhaps Lopez could be one of those candidates too, a close reading of the Basque election results suggests he may well be out of work in a couple of years time - but he is not a member of parliament and cannot become one whilst he holds his current job.
There may be some legitimate fears about a long drawn out contest sapping even further the PSOE's fragile electoral base. A Rubalcaba-Chacón contest is unlikely to be very inspiring, the absence of ideological content will reduce it to a choice between experience (Rubalcaba) or the novelty for Spain of a potential female (and Catalan!) prime minister (Chacón). It's still a far better way to choose your leader than that used by the Partido Popular where the almost life president talks to the honorary life president and then names the candidate.
The PP is pressing hard for the general election to be brought forward following their victory, although they won't present a motion of censure against the government unless they know they will win it. Zapatero clearly wants to serve his full term and give some time for his successor to prepare for the elections. The key to these plans doesn't lie within the PSOE itself, it is the Basque nationalists of the PNV who will decide whether to continue honouring the pact that saw the government through to this point.