- Alfredo Rubalcaba will lead revitalization efforts of Spain's Socialist Party
- He defeated Carme Chacon by just 22 votes out of just over 950 cast Saturday
- Party leaders insist the members will unite around the new secretary general
Spain's Socialist Party has elected Alfredo Rubalcaba as its new secretary general, three months after he led the party to a landslide loss to the conservatives in the midst of the nation's deep economic crisis.
At a convention of party leaders in Seville, Rubalcaba, the former deputy prime minister, defeated Carme Chacon, the former defense minister, by just 22 votes out of just over 950 cast.
Rubalcaba becomes secretary general -- the party's top executive -- in place of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the two-term prime minister and secretary general who did not seek re-election last November.
Zapatero was badly damaged by the economic crisis that has left Spain with 5.2 million jobless and an unemployment rate of nearly 23 percent.
The conservative Popular Party swept to a commanding majority in parliament in the November 20 elections and the new prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has implemented more austerity cuts, tax hikes and other reforms to try to jump-start the stagnant economy. His term is for four years.
The Socialists had to choose a new secretary general to try to start a process of renewal for the badly divided party. The division was evident again in the close vote on Saturday.
Some analysts said the political veteran Rubalcaba, 60 -- who has held key posts in two Socialist governments, most recently as deputy prime minister under Zapatero, and was the party's candidate for prime minister in November -- would be a steadier hand to lead a party internal transition. He would then, potentially, make room for fresh faces who are not associated with Zapatero's government.
He faced a bruising primary battle from Chacon, 40, who was defense minister under Zapatero.
Party leaders insisted that despite the tight primary battle, the party would unite around the new secretary general. But the Socialists -- who before losing nationally in November lost control of most key regional governments in May -- are expected to have a long uphill climb before regaining power.