UNIDAS PODEMOS

The 50 days of silence from Spain’s leftist leader Pablo Iglesias

The charismatic and polarizing founder of Podemos quit politics on May 4 after losing the Madrid election and has not made a single public statement since then

Pablo Iglesias released this photograph of his new look in mid-May.
Pablo Iglesias released this photograph of his new look in mid-May.DANI GAGO / AFP

Pablo Iglesias remained silent even on the day that nine Catalan separatist leaders were released from prison after receiving controversial pardons from the Spanish government – an executive where he himself was a leading figure until recently.

It’s been a month and a half since the co-founder of the leftist party Podemos – which later allied with the United Left to form Unidas Podemos and is now part of Spain’s coalition government – decided to step back from politics. It was right after the Madrid election of May 4, where he was running for regional premier after serving as Spain’s second deputy prime minister and minister of social rights and the 2030 Agenda.

Voters instead delivered a resounding victory to his conservative rival Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the Popular Party (PP), following a particularly divisive campaign that featured criminal incidents and loaded language with constant references to fascism, democracy, communism and freedom. Iglesias, along with several other politicians, received a letter containing death threats and bullets.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias on the night of the Madrid election on May 4.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias on the night of the Madrid election on May 4.

“I’m leaving all of my positions. I’m quitting politics, understood as party and institutional politics,” he announced shortly after the election. The charismatic leader, once a regular fixture at television debates and very active on social media, walked away after seven years in the spotlight and has not made a single public statement since then. Not even on Twitter.

The only news that has emerged in all this time is a photograph of Iglesias with a brand new haircut: he has lopped off his trademark ponytail and now sports short hair. The picture was released a week after his decision to quit politics, and image experts said the haircut symbolizes a radical break with the political character born out of the Indignados protest movement, which was the seed of Podemos.

After that, there was nothing. Iglesias reportedly keeps getting asked to appear on television shows and documentaries, but he turns everyone down. He also failed to participate in the Citizen Assembly that designated Ione Belarra as his successor as secretary general of Podemos on June 13.

“I am a lecturer in political science and I really enjoyed hosting [the television program] La Tuerka. When the time comes [to quit politics] I would like to do something similar,” he told EL PAÍS in an interview that took place 72 hours before he dropped out of politics.

For now, at least, Iglesias has not requested to be readmitted at the Complutense University of Madrid, where he used to teach, sources at this center have confirmed. When he entered politics to run in the 2014 European election, he asked for a leave but his request was turned down. Two years later the courts ruled in Iglesias’ favor, but university rector Carlos Andradas explained that Iglesias had been working as a substitute lecturer and that the permanent instructor had returned to his post. Iglesias was at one point awarded an honorary teaching role but no longer holds that title, said the same sources. Because there are currently no labor ties between Iglesias and Complutense, he could seek a position at any other institution of higher learning.

Iglesias has not yet requested to be readmitted at the Complutense University of Madrid, where he used to teach

Although Iglesias himself has stressed his personal preference for broadcast communication, a medium that he is very comfortable in – he was also hosting Otra Vuelta de Tuerka and Fort Apache before he quit to join the Cabinet – there is no official confirmation regarding negotiations for a program that might be seeing the light in September. Iglesias is friends with Jaume Roures, a Catalan entrepreneur and founding partner of the multimedia communications group Mediapro, but company sources denied that they are working with him on any project.

While he works out the details of his next professional step, Iglesias continues to get up early to take his young children from their residence in Galapagar, in the mountains north of the capital, to the school run by the Congress of Deputies. He enrolled them there to avoid the harassment they were being subjected to at their local school.

Iglesias’ new routine involves spending time with family and friends, reading and even going out for dinner in Madrid’s Lavapiés neighborhood. His new look and the face mask have allowed him to go unnoticed in a way that would have been unthinkable until recently. Or until he decides to speak up again.

English version by Susana Urra.

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