MADRID – Pablo Iglesias and his party Podemos broke into the Spanish political scene in 2015 by winning more than a fifth of the votes in their first national election, igniting dreams of beating the Socialists as the largest leftist party and reshaping the government.
Instead, after his meteoric rise, Iglesias faced the internal tensions of the party and endured the same kind of criticism of his leadership and lifestyle that he had long launched at a political establishment he called "the caste." Support for his party has fallen dramatically.
However, Mr. Iglesias, 41, now seems to have his first chance to at least share the power under an agreement that he would see him take the post of deputy prime minister and his party would become the junior partnerr in a government headed by the most moderate socialist leader, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
With strong rivalries and political differences, it is an awkward alliance, and the road ahead for Mr. Iglesias could be as difficult as the last few years have been. But if Sanchez can get parliamentary approval for his proposed coalition, he would make Spain one of the few European countries, and easily the largest, where the far-left ministers are part of the government.
We can reach Parliament riding a wave of mass protests against austerity cuts caused by the debt crisis that battered much of Europe. In its first national campaign, Podemos became the third most successful since Spain returned to democracy in the 1970s. Another newcomer, Citizens, placed quarter.
Mr. Iglesias dismissed the main traditional parties as an established, insensitive and out of touch establishment. We can take as a model another anti-system party of the extreme left, Syriza, which came to power in Greece in 2015 on an anti-austerity platform and ruled until it was overthrown in this year's elections.
But once in Parliament, Mr. Horsetail Churches found it harder to present himself as a strange critic. He became involved in failed negotiations on the formation of a government, and lost support even after merging Podemos with a smaller left-wing party.
On November 10, the renowned United We can win only 35 of the 350 seats in the lower house of Parliament, half of those he had won in the 2015 and elections of 2016. He finished fourth, behind a newcomer from the extreme right, Vox.
Santiago Abascal, the Vox leader, has directed right-wing attacks against Mr. Sánchez, accusing him of "hugging,quot; Bolivarian Communism ”, equating it with Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader who died in 2013, by allowing Iglesias to enter his government.
Sánchez and Iglesias signed their pact only two days after the November 10 elections, hugging the cameras, a contrast to the aggression that marked their previous months of fruitless negotiations, which had forced Spain to its fourth election in four years. .
But even combined, the two sides do not have a majority. And so, having reached an agreement with Mr. Iglesias, Mr. Sánchez must still win the support of some smaller parties, probably including Catalan separatists, to allow him to form a new government.
His next challenge would be to keep his minority coalition government together in the midst of a European economic slowdown.
If there were a recession, "We could have every interest in showing a differentiating factor, to convince the electorate that any frustration that accumulates should not be attributable to them," said Ignacio Jurado, professor of politics at the Carlos III University of Madrid.
The media connoisseur, Mr. Iglesias, who appeared regularly on television chat programs before entering politics, has tried to reformulate himself as a statesman rather than as a fire mark. During a televised campaign debate, he repeatedly read articles of the Constitution of Spain, while reminding other candidates to respect the laws of the country.
Before founding Podemos, he and some of his allies taught politics in universities and worked as political consultants in Latin America, including for Mr. Chavez's government. Once the party gained strength, they faced news reports that Podemos had received undeclared money from Venezuela and Iran, a claim they have repeatedly denied.
Mr. Iglesias argues that under the Conservative government that lost power last year, its party suffered for a long time a state-backed media defamation campaign, orchestrated by a former senior police officer, José Manuel Villarejo.
Mr. Villarejo is in jail, awaiting trial for bribery and money laundering. Prosecutors say he became rich while working for years as a secret agent for political and corporate clients, spying on and defaming his enemies, and even fabricating evidence. The conversations he secretly recorded have leaked, shedding a flattering light on the rich and powerful of Spain.
United We argue that Villarejo was behind false claims about the party's foreign funding, and that he illegally spied on party officials. Mr. Iglesias is a party to one of several court cases focusing on Mr. Villarejo.
"Perhaps we can understand, without justification, that a state uses illegal mechanisms to fight terrorists, but not to fight a political formation," Iglesias said during a recent meeting with a group of foreign journalists.
But even if the legal tangle surrounding Mr. Villarejo vindicates Mr. Iglesias and United We Can, his problems will be far from solved.
The polarization in Spain has deepened recently, with Vox finding a receptive audience for its anti-immigrant and ultra-nationalist rhetoric, and political power is more fragmented than ever.
Iglesias has fought with some of his closest colleagues, and last year he rejected an attempt to overthrow him as party leader. That challenge followed claims that he and his partner and political partner, Irene Montero, had violated the principles of the working class of Unidos Podemos by buying a villa in the richest municipality in Spain, on the outskirts of Madrid.
This year, Íñigo Errejón, co-founder of Podemos, broke away and formed his own party to contest the recent elections, although he won only three seats.
Once in the government, Mr. Iglesias and his party may find that working with the Socialists, who have a more cautious agenda, is a frustrating experience. United We want higher taxes on corporations and the rich, an increased minimum wage, a 34-hour work week and property rental price limits. The party also wants the banks to reimburse the government for the ransom money they received during the financial crisis in Spain in 2012, while keeping Bankia, the largest rescued lender, under the state control.
Socialists have advocated for more modest tax increases, and have not talked about squeezing banks. They This year the Spanish minimum wage increased considerably, and has not shown interest in increasing it again in the short term.
But the main problem could be that Iglesias has argued that an independence referendum in Catalonia, with terms established by Madrid, could help put an end to Spain's territorial conflict. Two years ago, the regional government held a referendum that the central government and the courts described as illegal, plunging Catalonia into chaos.
Before the elections last month, Sanchez promised not another vote of independence, but a stronger repression against the Catalan separatists after several nights of violence in the streets of Barcelona and other cities.
When Mr. Sánchez and Mr. Iglesias signed their pact, the Spanish stock market fell.
But as long as Mr. Sánchez keeps the socialist ministers, and not those of United We, in charge of the economy, it seems unlikely that his coalition will cause major concerns among the European Union's partners in Spain.
"I think the European Union prefers a government with Podemos instead of more dead spots," said Jury, the policy professor. "If the European economy continues to slow down, it is important to have at least someone in charge and capable of intervening in Spain."