MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Saturday he would not seek a third term in 2012 parliamentary elections.
"I will not be a candidate in the next general elections," Zapatero told the ruling Socialist party's Federal Committee on Saturday.
Zapatero's announcement comes after much media speculation he would use the Federal Committee assembly as a forum to dispel doubts about his future, as his Socialists face a drubbing both in May local polls and in 2012.
Given his own low standing in opinion polls and public criticism of his handling of the economic crisis, Zapatero was expected to step aside sooner or later.
Today's announcement will trigger primaries for a new party leader, a process which will be up to the Federal Committee to decide, Zapatero said. But these primaries will not take place before the May polls, he said.
"I propose that after the municipal elections the Committee decides when to begin the process to elect a new leader," Zapatero said.
The front runner for the leadership is Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, 59. His only serious rival is 40-year-old Carme Chacon, Defense Minister, who would fit as a younger face to remodel the party.
(Reporting by Judy MacInnes; editing by Jon Boyle)