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Chile's Senate greenlights second pension withdrawal bill

11/26/2020 | 05:16pm EST

(Recasts with approval of second withdrawal bill)

SANTIAGO, Nov 26 (Reuters) - Chile's opposition-controlled Senate on Thursday approved a government-backed bill that would allow citizens to make a second withdrawal from their public pensions to further blunt the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill, which now goes to the lower house of Congress for a vote, will permit withdrawals of up to 10% from the country's private pension system. That matches the cap placed on the first withdrawal passed by Congress in July.

Earlier, a nearly identical bill backed by the opposition and some members of the ruling coalition but opposed by President Sebastian Pinera was rejected in the Senate after the center-right leader introduced rival legislation.

Pinera had argued against any further withdrawals from the pensions system, saying they would damage the pension system and that citizens should rely on emergency measures instead.

However as it became apparent a second drawdown would receive majority support, Pinera made a U-turn, introducing his own legislation last week that would allow for a constrained withdrawal.

On Thursday, members of his Chile Vamos coalition withdrew their support for the original bill and voted instead for Pinera's version, which passed with cross-party backing.

Opposition lawmakers had called for a second drawdown as the economy floundered and the pandemic raged on, arguing government measures did not go far enough. Their bill received broad support in the lower house two weeks ago, including from CV members.

The outcome is a mixed bag for Pinera. On one hand, he headed off the embarrassment of a second, opposition-led initiative being backed by his supporters, but his own bill was stripped by congressional committees of a cap placed on who was eligible to benefit and the obligation the money be repaid, effectively removing the differences between the bills.

Pamela Jiles, the left-wing lawmaker who proposed the original bill, blamed "politicking" for slowing the legislation.

"We've ended up with a project that is practically identical to ours only to change the signature of Pamela Jiles for Pinera's signature," she told reporters. "This is politics in Chile."

Ignacio Briones, the finance minister, said the outcome had reestablished the principle that the executive has exclusive powers on taxes, public spending and social security.

"We are satisfied that the institutional path ... has been approved," he added.

Claudio Fuentes, a political scientist at Chile’s Diego Portales University, said the episode highlighted how weak Pinera's government had become, with less than a year left in office and following widespread social protests that started last year and still simmer.

"The substantive modifications and the fact that a second withdrawal is approved shows that the government's capacity for political maneuvering is very low," he said. (Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Natalia Ramos, writing by Dave Sherwood and Aislinn Laing, Editing by Peter Graff and Paul Simao)

© Reuters 2020
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