The leader of new Spanish anti-establishment party Podemos, which is heading opinion polls, on Wednesday attacked conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's record in office and challenged him to a television debate.
During his final state-of-the-nation debate in parliament on Tuesday before a year-end general election, Rajoy said the "nightmare was over" for Spain after the country returned to growth last year of 1.4 percent, the first full year of economic growth since a 2008 property crash.
"The nightmare is the reality of our country," Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said in response, speaking to a packed party rally in a Madrid theatre which was broadcast live over the Internet.
Under Rajoy salaries have dropped, the unemployment rate stands at over 23 percent, the highest level in the eurozone after Greece's while the vast majority of jobs that were created last year were short-term contacts, Iglesias said.
"According to the tax office, there are nearly 7.7 million workers who earn less or much less than a thousand euros a month ... Is that leaving the nightmare ?", the pony-tailed university professor asked.
Podemos was set up in January 2014 and has no representation in parliament so Iglesias could not reply to Rajoy during his state-of-the-nation debate at the assembly.
Iglesias, 36, said the party -- which has grown quickly and comes in either first or second place in opinion polls, ahead of the main opposition Socialists -- was the "real opposition to the government" and challenged Rajoy to televised debate.
"Spain deserves a debate between you and me face to face on TV, whenever and wherever you want," said the leader of Podemos, which is close to Greece's radical Syriza party which took power there in January.
Podemos will face its first electoral test of the year when Andalucia, Spain's largest region, votes in a regional election on March 22.
Local and regional elections are slated for most of the rest of the country in May with a general election to be held at a yet-to-be determined date at the end of the year.
- 'They can't threaten us' -
Rajoy warned Tuesday that "demagoguery" and the promise of "magic formulas" threatened Spain's economic recovery, alluding to Podemos without naming the party.
Iglesias responded by denouncing the widespread corruption in Spain and vowed to extend the statute of limitations for corruption crimes, saying it was time to change "laws that allow the rich to keep stealing from us."
He also promised to negotiate an "orderly restructuring" of Spain's debt, which he said was unsustainable.
Iglesias said the eurozone could not afford to lose Spain.
"We are the fourth-largest economy in the eurozone, they can't threaten us," he said.
"We don't want any more heads of government who obey and don't negotiate," he said.
Iglesias also promised during his speech, which was constantly interrupted by applause, that he would a French-style wealth tax.
"The wealthy should pay, the super-rich should pay. We know that we need the rich but we are going to demand that they be responsible."
Once a flagship policy of Socialist French President Francois Hollande, the 75-percent "supertax" on top earners in France expired last month, having sparked plenty of controversy but few economic results there.
The steady rise of Podemos in the Spanish polls, along with that of Ciudadanos a centre-right party which also rallies against corruption and unemployment, threatens to put an end to Spain's traditional two party system.
Since 1982 the country has been ruled by either Rajoy's Popular Party or the Socialists.