Chile’s lower house of Congress unanimously approved the bono marzo yesterday , an $80 unconditional cash transfer targeted at the four million low-income Chileans who represent the poorest 40 percent of the country. Passage of this measure was timed to coincide with the beginning of the school year. The bono marzo, which was one of President Piñera’s key campaign pledges, was expected to pass smoothly through the legislature, but has been closely watched for indications of how the new president will manage relations with lawmakers and his approach to governance.
Members of Piñera’s cabinet, who were present during the final vote, applauded the measure’s passage alongside Chile’s 116 congressional representatives. This image, however, contrasts sharply with unexpected high tensions that arose during debate on the bill, including an unexpected obstacle regarding leadership distribution in the legislature that jeopardized the bill’s passage until the final hour.
According to news reports, a dispute arose on Tuesday when the president’s ruling coalition—which now has a majority in the chamber—established a pact to quickly distribute congressional leadership positions for a number of commissions. The move agitated Concertación members, who argued for their right to participate in the process. Alianza (the ruling coalition), defended their decision in the name of efficiency. At one point, Concertación members walked out of the building and threatened to censure the head of the chamber for preventing their participation in the discussion.
The bill will now move to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass.