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The first woman to be elected president of Nepal

Nepal has elected its new president, the second after the end of the monarchy. The new head of state is a woman. She is an activist for gender equality, but some controversies arose.

Nepal has elected, on 28 October, its second president since it became a democratic republic in 2008. For the first time the president is a woman. Bidhya Devi Bhandari, 54, of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal, has been elected thanks to the vote of 327 members of Parliament against 214. As in other countries, the presidential role is more importantly symbolic, considering that the political power is held by the Prime Minister, the comrade and party leader Khadga Prasad Oli. Bhandari succeeds Ram Baran Yadav, the first president of Nepal that has been elected in 2008 after the decision of the Parliament to abandon the monarchy.

Bhandari is not new to politics. Since the 1980s she has been campaigning for gender equality in politics, contributing to secure women’s right under the new constitution and to achieve that one-third of the members of parliament have to be women and either the president or vice-president must be a woman. Nevertheless, many criticisms arose due to her position on citizenship. The constitution – supported by the newly elected president – makes it difficult for a single mother to pass her citizenship to her child. A child of a Nepali woman and a foreign man cannot get a citizenship by descent unless the man first takes Nepali citizenship; but children can become Nepali automatically if the father is Nepali, regardless of the mother’s nationality.

 

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Clashes between protesters and police in Kathmandu, Nepal © Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

 

After a pause from the political stage, due to the commitment of her husband Madan Bhandari, one of the most charismatic politicians Nepal has had, and her choice to take on family responsibilities, Bidhya Devi Bhandari decided to go back to politics in 1993, after her husband was killed in a mysterious car accident. One of her next tasks will be lifting the country out of the instability also due to the adoption, in September, of the new constitution. Ethnical minorities in Nepal, indeed, do not think to be properly represented compared to Hindu majority, and ask more rights. To date, 40 people died in clashes with the police.

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