Bidhya Devi Bhandari has been elected Nepal’s first female president. A prominent women’s rights campaigner, Bhandari’s move is being hailed as a milestone, though the president’s role is mainly ceremonial in this Himalayan state. As president, she has promised to champion minority and women’s rights in Nepal.
Bhandari is going to be the second person to hold this position in the country. She will replace Ram Baran Yadav, who was the country’s first elected president in 2008 after Nepal abolished its monarchy.
The 54-year-old Bhandari is presently the vice-chair of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist). She was earlier the defense minister from 2009 to 2011. In the pre-democracy era, she worked underground, later getting elected to parliament after her politician husband was killed in a mysterious car crash.
Bidhya Bhandari is believed to be a close ally of the new Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli, who assumed power earlier this month. She is from the same nominally communist party.
She has long been a political activist in what is largely a male-dominated society. However, a few people have questioned her feminist credentials, as Bhandari supports citizenship laws they say are anti-women. However she was still able to ensure a one-third quota for women in parliament.
As Nepal’s president, she will now be the supreme commander of the armed forces. However, her largely ceremonial role will probably restrict her from indulging in too much politics.
Her election comes shortly after Nepal initiated its new constitution in September to stabilize the country. However this has sparked deadly violence, killing at least 40 people. The constitution defines the majority Hindu nation as a secular republic divided into seven federal provinces.
Ethnic groups in southern Nepal want more territory and rights for ethnic federal states.