No decision on joining race for president until March

Former Balearic President, Spain's Environment Minister, Jaume Matas, is keeping the electorate in suspense. Matas, chairman of the Balearic Partido Popular party, is the favourite to lead the party into the next elections on May 25, but yesterday he made it clear that he will not make a definite decision until the elections are officially convened by Balearic president Francesc Antich in March. Political pundits expected Prime Minister Aznar to have released Matas from his environmental duties at the last cabinet reshuffle, paving the way for Matas to start working on his Balearic electoral campaign. However, Aznar values Matas's role in the cabinet and that is where he looks set to remain until Antich throws down the gauntlet. Despite having been cleared by the High Court over allegations that he was involved in vote-rigging and e-mail espionage, in two separate cases, Matas wants to be absolutely sure before committing himself to the race for Balearic president and a return to regional politics. Matas does not want to get his political fingers burnt like the former Home Secretary Mayor Oreja. He stood down to head the PP's run for leader of the Basque government, he lost and remains in opposition in the Basque parliament, a far cry from Madrid and the duties of Home Secretary. The conservative Partido Popular in the Balearic Islands had taken Matas's return to the race as a forgone conclusion, but his latest announcement has caused some staunch supporters to doubt his return to local politics. Once Antich has called the elections, each party has until April before having to put forward its final candidates. Matas will first have to be unanimously approved by the PP general executive in the Balearics and then by the national executive in Madrid, should he decide to run for leader of the Balearic government. Matas was given a hero's welcome at the regional congress last week and he knows that he can count on the full support of the party.

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