A month after adopting a new national constitution, Nepal has elected Bidhya Devi Bhandari as its next president. She will be the country’s first female president and only the second president since Nepal became a democratic republic in 2008.
The new constitution required an almost entirely new government, beginning with parliament’s election of prime minister Khadga Prasad Oli. He and Bhandari both represent Nepal’s Unified Marxist-Leninist Communist party.
It also required that either the president or vice president be a woman, and that one-third of parliamentarians be women. Parliament’s first female speaker, Onsari Gharti Magar, was elected last week.
Bhandar has reportedly advocated for women’s rights and was responsible for the mandate that one-third of parliament members be women. However, according to the Nepali Times, she has been criticized for justifying certain traditions of patriarchal discrimination.
Bhandari became involved in politics as a teenager in Nepal the 1980s, but stepped away from the action after marrying communist leader Madan Bhandari and having two children with him. After becoming a widow in 1993, when her husband was killed in a mysterious car accident, she stepped back in and campaigned to take his place in parliament.
Nepal is still reeling from the violence and unrest sparked by the adoption of the new constitution. Minority groups complain that it marginalizes them, while others are dismayed at its secularism. India, Nepal’s neighbor, appears to have sided with the dissenters by instituting an unofficial blockade of fuel and other supplies across its border.