Long standing Communist leader Vidya Devi Bhandari was on Wednesday elected as Nepal’s first woman President. The 54-year-old deputy leader of the ruling party CPN-UML was elected to the highest office of Nepal after she defeated her rival from Nepali Congress party by more than 100 votes.
Ms Bhandari, the widow of late General Secretary of the party Madan Bhandari, secured 327 votes against 214 votes of her rival veteran Nepali Congress leader Kul Bahadur Gurung.
“I announce that Vidya Devi Bhandari has been elected to the post of Nepal’s president,” Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar said, to loud cheers from lawmakers.
Vidya Devi will succeed incumbent President Ram Baran Yadav who was elected as the country’s first President in 2008 after Nepal was declared a Republic following the abolition of a 240-year-old monarchy. The president is the ceremonial head in Nepal while the prime minister is the nation’s leader.
In her first public statement as the newly elected President, Ms Bhandari said the new Constitution would work for Nepal’s sovereignty and independence during her tenure. She added that the charter promulgated from the Constituent Assembly last month would protect sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
Her victory was almost certain as 12 ruling parties including the third and fourth largest parties – UCPN (Maoist) and Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) – had pledged their support. Gurung received votes only from NC lawmakers.
Vidya Devi Bhandari is also known to be a close confidante of Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli, who was elected to the office earlier this month.
Bhandari began her political career with a leftist student movement in 1979. She then acquired membership of CPN (ML), went underground and fought against the party-less Panchayat system from Morang district. She married the prominent Communist leader Madan Kumar Bhandari. It was Madan Bhandari’s mysterious death in a jeep accident in 1993 which led to her second inning in politics. She contested against former prime minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and defeated him.
Bhandari won two subsequent parliamentary elections in 1994 and 1999. She was also a member of the Interim Parliament formed after the 2006 Janaandolan II.
She had also served as the country’s first woman Defence Minister in the Madhav Kumar Nepal-led government from May 25, 2009 until February 6, 2011. Earlier in 1990s, she was appointed the Minister for Environment and Population. Besides, she led party’s sister organisation, All Nepal Women Association for nearly two decades.
She was elected Vice-Chairperson of the party from its eighth and ninth conventions in February 2009 and July 2014 respectively. She was a Central Committee member of the party since its sixth national convention in January 1998.
Bhandari, also known as a vocal Womer rights activist, is a mother of two daughters.
(With inputs from the PTI)