In 2015, Pedro Sánchez, a Socialist leader, used a televised election debate to mount a stinging attack against Mariano Rajoy, then Spain’s prime minister. It backfired.
He accused Rajoy of overseeing corruption in the conservative Popular Party. “The prime minister must be a decent person,” Sánchez told Rajoy. “And you aren’t.”
But Rajoy kept his cool, brushed off the accusation and went on to use it as evidence that Sánchez was a disrespectful politician.
On Friday, it was Sánchez who presided over the downfall of Rajoy, using the corruption charge against the prime minister to devastating effect. After a court ruling found that Rajoy’s party had benefited from a slush fund, Sánchez orchestrated a parliamentary revolt, winning the backing of a majority of lawmakers to oust Rajoy through a vote of no confidence.
On Saturday, Sánchez, 46, was sworn in as Spain’s new prime minister by King Felipe VI, a stunning and rapid turnaround for a man who returned to his party’s leadership only a year ago, after being ousted in a party mutiny. He took over on the same day that a new separatist administration took office in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, led by Quim Torra.
Spain faces an uncertain situation, with a fragile Socialist government formed by an establishment party whose leader was believed to have missed his best chance to govern the country.
The challenge for Sánchez will be how to keep together an unwieldy alliance with the far-left Podemos and nationalist parties from Catalonia and the Basque region, which helped him replace Rajoy. Sánchez’s Socialist party holds only one-quarter of the seats in parliament.
“It creates some uncertainty — but nothing like the Italian case,” said Dani Rodrik, a professor of international political economy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. (He was referring to the Italian government that was formed in Rome last week between two parties that have a history of antagonism toward the European Union and immigration.) “It does not look like he has the mandate or votes to do much,” Rodrik said of Sánchez.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.