Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Friday urged his Socialist colleagues to select Deputy Premier Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba to lead the beleaguered party into next year's general elections.

Zapatero, who announced last month that he would not be seeking a third four-year term, endorsed Perez Rubalcaba a day after Defense Minister Carme Chacon said she would not pursue a bid to be the party's 2012 standard-bearer.

The executive committee of the Socialist Workers Party of Spain, or PSOE, is to meet Saturday to consider the leadership question.

In power since 2004, the PSOE suffered a beating in last Sunday's regional and municipal elections amid discontent over soaring unemployment and an economy that is struggling to emerge from the dual shock of the global recession and the bursting of a decade-long property bubble.

The 59-year-old Perez Rubalcaba, a PSOE warhorse whose national career began in the early 1980s during the tenure of then-Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, has given no clue about his intentions.

Zapatero, according to sources within the PSOE, said that while he sees Perez Rubalcaba as the "best candidate," the prime minister will not stand in the way if the party executive committee decides to hold a primary to select the next leader.

Under party rules, a primary is only required if more than one candidate enters the race.