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Franco Parisi – A Blast from the Past?

SANTIAGO – In its latest survey, polling firm Criteria Research dropped a bomb. The usual suspects of presidential favorites all lost support – while Franco Parisi shot to the top. Franco who? Here’s some background.

Published earlier this week, a Criteria Research poll on presidential favorites had Joaquín Lavín, J.A. Kast, and Beatriz Sánchez sharing the top spot with 8% preference. While Lavín hemorrhaged support (-6%), Sánchez lost 2% and Kast 1%. But the clear winner of the poll was Franco Parisi, who also gained 8% but started from zero.

Parisi became popular as ‘the people’s economist’ because he could explain complex economics in accessible language. In 2012 he kicked off a presidential campaign which got him 10% in the first round of the 2013 election.

Although Parisi gained some sympathy, shady financial dealings and sexual harassment accusations still cloud his résumé.

Parisi ‘s profession

Parisi has a business engineer degree from Universidad de Chile and a PhD in Finance from the University of Georgia. He held several teaching positions in Chilean and US universities.

Around 2011 the ‘La Polar scandal’ hit Chile and provided Parisi an opening. The retailer offered customers loans but unilaterally and clandestinely increased borrowers’ interest rates. This scheme worked for a while, especially in an oligopolistic market like Chile’s. But one day the theft came out and observers like Parisi emerged to explain how exactly La Polar fleeced customers and how the system encourages such behavior.

His simple yet eloquent language attracted a sizable audience. Subsequently, he used that following as springboard for a show with his brother, Antonio, called ‘Los Parisi,’ in which they explained democracy and Economics.

Before entering the limelight, Parisi was government adviser and had a real estate business. He also worked for state copper commission COCHILCO until 2012. Although his two-year contract with the entity simply lapsed, as revealed by The Clinic magazine, he turned his departure into an act of injustice the system inflicted on him. No doubt that won him a couple votes and media attention.

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Presidential Campaign

When he announced his candidacy, he presented a program, together with right-wing Renovación Nacional senator Antonio Horvath, that reflected his socially liberal beliefs.

Remarkably, Parisi promised to implement a new Constitution. He proposed a constituent assembly plus regional delegates which would hammer out a document citizens would vote on via plebiscite. His proposal for legalizing abortion in cases of rape was revolutionary at the time. President Bachelet got an abortion law enacted, too, against fierce resistance. And although the law also allows abortion in cases of rape, many doctors and private hospitals legally opt out. Parisi’s proposal would certainly have hit a wall.

In economic policy, Parisi wanted to raise corporate taxes from 20% to 26% (which the Bachelet government did) but abolish taxes for new business, improve subcontracting legislation and simplify collective bargaining. He also promised to create a national AFP (pension fund), another idea which the Bachelet administration took up but never pulled off.

Parisi also planned to tax private health insurers more and expand mental healthcare coverage. On the energy front, he proposed to boost renewable energy – an idea the current government is implementing.

In early 2017, Parisi announced another run for president, but came nowhere near his 2013 result.

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Controversies

In the wake of the 2013 campaign some dodgy business came to light. Most importantly, after he dropped out of the race, he submitted shady receipts to election watchdog Servel. If candidates in Chile reach a certain threshold, they are entitled to proportionate reimbursement from the taxpayer for campaign expenses. But Servel found the receipts not credible and accusations emerged Parisi tried to fleece the state.

He was also accused of maladministration in an educational establishment the local Freemasons entrusted to him and his family business. They claimed the Parisis owe them at least CLP$100 million (US$120,000). Evelyn Matthei, one of Parisi’s presidential contenders, seized the opportunity and used the accusations to attack her opponent during the 2013 campaign. While in 2015 a court ruled the Freemason’s were right, an appellate court absolved Parisi of wrongdoing in 2017.

More serious, however, weighs a sexual harassment accusation. In 2016, both Texas Tech University and the University of Alabama terminated Parisi’s contracts, as a student from the former university claimed Parisi harassed her. The accused brushed the claims aside. La Tercera cited Parisi a saying that he is ‘affectionate’ with everyone and will have to be more careful in the future.

The Surge

As the latest surge in the polls took everybody by surprise, daily La Tercera cited Criteria head Cristián Valdivieso as saying that Parisi could take advantage of the current crisis and social media.

According to Valdivieso, the percentage of respondents without political preference rose from 8% to 25% as result of the crisis. Trust established figures would get solutions collapsed. Some of Parisi’s former campaign aides then stepped in and pushed a social media campaign. As part of that, they circulated a video in which Parisi supposedly foresees the current crisis. This way they brought the former candidate to an audience big enough to make a difference in the current political landscape and the poll.

Although the aides think Parisi could help solve the crisis, the man himself said on Facebook that he remains focused on his family and business. For now.

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