Nepal´s parliament elects first female president

KATHMANDU: Nepal’s parliament elected lawmaker Bidhya Bhandari as the country’s first female president Wednesday, after the adoption of a landmark constitution last month. The former defence minister defeated her opponent Kul Bahadur Gurung by 327 to 214 votes to become the Himalayan nation´s ceremonial head of state. Bhandari, the vice-chair of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), replaces Ram Baran Yadav. He was elected as the first president in 2008 following the abolition of a 240-year-old Hindu monarchy. “I announce that Bidhya Devi Bhandari has been elected to the post of Nepal´s president,” said Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar, to loud cheers from lawmakers.Bhandari, a rare female face in Nepal´s parliament, took up politics in her teens, seeking to overturn the absolute monarchy and later marrying a fellow communist, Madan Bhandari.

But it was after her husband´s death in a vehicle accident in 1993 that the mother of two became a prominent voice, riding a wave of sympathy to win a seat in parliament. Yadav was initially supposed to hold office for only two years. But years of political wrangling delayed agreement on a new constitution, which was only finally adopted last month. Bhandari, 54, is the second woman to be elected to a senior position since then, after Magar became the country´s first female Speaker. As required by the new charter, parliament also this month elected a new prime minister, KP Sharma Oli, who is tasked with unifying the earthquake-hit country. The constitution, the first drawn up by elected representatives, was meant to cement peace and bolster Nepal´s transformation to a democratic republic after decades of political instability and a 10-year Maoist insurgency, but it has instead sparked deadly violence.

More than 40 people have been killed in clashes between police and ethnic minority protesters, who say a new federal structure laid out in the charter adopted last month will leave them under-represented in parliament. Work on the constitution began in 2008 after Maoist rebels laid down arms and entered politics, winning parliamentary elections and abolishing the monarchy. But power-sharing squabbles between parties stymied progress. Lawmakers finally reached agreement in June, spurred by the massive earthquake two months earlier that killed nearly 8,900 people and left more than half a million people homeless.


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