Presidential Elections

Parisi: the presidential power broker?

The presidential election proved to be as unpredictable as people anticipated with Franco Parisi, the People Party’s candidate, obtaining a surprise third place finish behind José Antonio Kast and Gabriel Boric in the first round. Although he will not advance to the second round, he is in a strong position to influence its outcome. Parisi, who was conspicuously absent from Chile for two years, has a history of being an outsider and an enigma.

In last weekend’s presidential election, the People’s Party candidate, Franco Parisi, won third place with 900,000 votes, 12 percent of the total. This was an absolute shock to voters and experts alike because he beat ostensibly more popular, and definitely better funded campaigns, such as Yasna Provoste’s New Social Pact, and because his absence from Chile (he currently resides in Alabama in the United States) meant he relied on social media to campaign. 

Throughout his campaign he adopted anti-politics rhetoric, consistently attacking the “political caste” and the alleged corruption endemic in Chilean politics. In social media videos, where he appeared alongside young YouTubers and economists, he decried “how the right and the left have usurped your money and gotten richer. The bigger is the ‘papa Estado,’ the smaller your pocket is.” 

Political scientist Jaime Abedrapo, director of the School of Government of the University of San Sebastián, said Parisi’s campaign was “a communication phenomenon” and effective because it exercised a strong “repudiation of all formations, both on the left and on the right.”

For many political experts, including Claudia Heiss, head of Political Science at the University of Chile, his third-place finish constitutes “clear disaffection towards politics and a lack of hope in collective programs.” Chilean Javier Sajuria, a professor at the Queen Mary University of London, added that “his anti-establishment and very populist discourse” is reminiscent of the “phenomenon of the Italian Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star Movement.” 

Read more:

Kast and Parisi both ‘winners’ in Chile’s presidential election first round

Although Parisi will not advance to the runoff election, his third-place finish, and the anti-establishment politics he embodies, shows that Chileans are desperately seeking a new direction. Parisi might therefore have a decisive voice in the runoff election between first place winner José Antonio Kast and second place winner Gabriel Boric.

Bíobio General Secretary Francisco Gatica has even suggested that Parisi’s supporters could stay at home and not go to the polls, showing how disaffected they are and how difficult it is to profile them. Indeed, in that region, Parisi beat Boric in 20 of the 33 municipalities.

Consequently, the two runoff candidates are seeking Parisi’s endorsement and will attempt to woo his voters by tailoring their campaign messages. However, the People’s Party General Secretary Emilio Peña cautioned that Parisi won so much support because his party understands the real needs of the people and warned that the decision as to who the party endorses is down to the party’s base, not Parisi.

El Partido de la Gente

The People’s Party (in Spanish, el Partido de la Gente) is a center-right- to right- wing populist party formed by Felices y Forrados Founder and CEO Gino Lorenzini in late 2019. The president of the party, Luis Antonio Moreno, supported Parisi’s 2013 candidacy in Bíobio, and the party is the successor to the “The Power of the People, Franco Parisi Social Movement,” which promoted Parisi’s candidacy in 2013. The party currently includes several former members of his 2013 presidential campaign.

Parisi and Lorenzini have been friends since 2000, when they met while Lorenzini completed a master’s degree in Finance at the University of Chile. In 2013, during Parisi’s first presidential campaign, Lorenzini told CNN Chile he had conducted a poll indicating that Parisi would finish in second place, with 23 percent of the vote, behind Michelle Bachelet. 

In a recent interview with La Tercera, Moreno explained that none of the board members had previously been active in a political party or held a public office. Moreno asserted that “all the people who are promoting the party want this to be more democratic from the grassroots with the opinion of the people” and that Parisi’s first campaign was “a social movement” that he was “not paid for.”

From November 2020 to July 26, 2021, Parisi and Lorenzini worked hard to gather the 17,214 signatures needed to constitutionally establish the party with Servel (Chile’s electoral service), so they could register a candidate for La Moneda in the 2021 election. The party became the first to be founded during the pandemic and to be digitally based.

Also read our earlier profile about Parisi:

Franco Parisi – A Blast from the Past?

Pending legal actions

Parisi has been living in Alabama in the United States since 2019 because if he sets foot in Chile he won’t be allowed to leave because of two pending legal actions, one for child support filed by the mother of his children in Chile and another by MBI Inversiones alleging fraud and money laundering. His party nevertheless backs him, asserting that a person’s “private life has nothing to do with the abilities that one possesses to hold public office.”

Parisi has consistently delayed his return to Chile, on the grounds he was being targeted. On Nov. 1, he stated that he delayed his return “for reasons that you will already know.” In addition, he has stated that he requested political asylum in the U.S. because he “knew what was coming.”

Background

Parisi has a business degree from the Universidad de Chile and a Finance Ph.D. from the University of Georgia. Before entering politics, he served as a university professor at numerous U.S. and Chilean universities. After the “La Polar scandal” in 2011, Parisi explained, in unpretentious language, what had happened. These explanations led him to be nicknamed “the economist of the people” and to start a television show with his brother called “Los Parisi.”

Parisi ran for President in 2013 on a socially liberal platform and offered some innovative ideas for the time, including a constitutional convention to decide a new constitution and legalized abortion in the case of rape. This platform helped him to reach 10 percent of the vote in the first round of the 2013 election. He ran again in 2017, but failed to reach a similar result.

Parisi’s career has also been dogged by various scandals. Most serious for Parisi are the sexual assault allegations lingering over him, with the University of Alabama and Texas Tech University terminating his employment in 2016 because a student claimed he harassed her. Parisi has also been accused of trying to swindle money from Chilean taxpayers after the 2013 election under the pretext of reclaiming expenses. 

 

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