Madrid – With just eights to go before Spain's general elections, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced Monday what is likely to be the final Cabinet reshuffle of his tenure.
The remodeling follows last week's resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba to focus on leading the governing Socialists into the March 2012 contest.
Rubalcaba, who also served as interior minister, was formally designated Saturday as the prime-ministerial candidate of the Socialist Workers Party of Spain, or PSOE.
Zapatero signaled in April that he would not run for a third four-year term.
Spain's secretary of state for Security, jurist Antonio Camacho, succeeds Rubalcaba as interior minister, while Economy Minister Elena Salgado becomes first deputy premier and is to chair Cabinet meetings in the prime minister's absence, Zapatero said Monday.
Development Minister Jose Blanco, a long-time Zapatero ally who managed the PSOE's successful 2004 and 2008 campaigns, will take over Rubalcaba's role as official government spokesperson, the premier said.
Spain's main opposition conservative Popular Party, which leads in the opinion polls and won big in recent municipal and regional balloting, has repeatedly demanded that Zapatero call early elections.
The PSOE administration has so far rejected that idea.
"The government governs, it is its urgent task and it will continue doing so," Zapatero told reporters Monday.
The overriding issue in 2012 is likely to be an economy still struggling to surmount the effects of the global recession and the bursting of a massive real estate bubble, a task made more difficult by pressure from financial markets to curb the deficit.
Spain's unemployment rate stands at more than 21 percent and growth remains sluggish.
Rubalcaba is a PSOE veteran who served in the Cabinet during the 1982-1996 tenure of Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez. His opponent in next year's election, PP leader Mariano Rajoy, lost to Zapatero in 2004 and 2008.