One of the more remarkable and once-unthinkable trajectories in modern Spanish politics came to an end a little before midnight on Tuesday when the Podemos leader and former deputy prime minister Pablo Iglesias announced he was leaving the political stage for good.
Speaking after the conservative People’s party (PP) triumphed in the Madrid regional election in which he had stood as his party’s candidate, Iglesias said the time had come for him to “leave my post and leave politics”. But the former politics lecturer added that he remained “very proud” to have led “a project that changed the history of our country”.
It was not an empty boast. In the seven years since Podemos was born from the fury of Spain’s indignados movement, the far-left, anti-austerity party has transformed the country’s politics.
After breaking through in 2014’s European elections, Podemos – together with the now moribund, centre-right Citizens party – brought an end to four decades of dominance by the duopoly of the PP and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE).
While the much-predicted sorpasso (overtaking) of the PSOE failed to materialise at the 2016 general election – and although Podemos has long struggled with factional squabbles and schisms – the party still managed to enter Spain’s first coalition government in eight decades a mere six years after its foundation.
“Being in politics broadens the shoulders,” he told the Guardian in 2017. “There’s that cruel saying: ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ And I think the punches we’ve taken have made us stronger.”
Throughout his time in both opposition and government, Iglesias has never found himself lost for words. In 2016, he stunned his then deputy, Iñigo Errejón, by rounding on the PSOE in congress by reminding the Socialists of their role in the dirty war against Basque terror group Eta in the 1980s, when government-funded death squads murdered suspected terrorists and disposed of their bodies. Iglesias told the chamber that the former PSOE leader Felipe González was a man with “a quicklime-stained past”.
More recently, he has reserved his anger and rhetoric for his opponents in the far-right Vox party, suggesting it would like to see a coup d’état in Spain but lacked the courage to stage one, and telling its MPs: “You’re not even fascists – you’re just parasites.”
Iglesias has also spoken of a “sewers of state” structure, operated by certain media figures and PP members, which, he alleges, has long engaged in efforts to protect the party from judicial scrutiny and smear its opponents with fabricated political scandals.
Despite walking out of a recent election debate after Vox’s candidate tried to cast doubt on the death threat he and his family had received – along with four assault rifle bullets – Iglesias is unlikely to keep his opinions to himself now that he has left politics. Enemies and former allies alike can expect to find themselves the target of a man who travelled, over the course of a few short years, from being one of the fiercest critics of the ruling elite to one of those at its very heart, albeit only briefly.