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The first woman President

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Nepal created history on Wednesday by electing its first woman Head of the Nation.

CPN (UML) leader Bidya Devi Bhandari, 54, became Nepal’s new President by winning a vote in Parliament. She bagged 327 votes as against NC leader Kul Bahadur Gurung’s 214 votes.

Bhandari won the election with the backing of UML’s coalition partners CPN (Maoist), RPP (N) and MJF (D). Her rival Gurung received votes only from NC lawmakers.

Photos: All Nepal Women’s Association. Timeline by Om Astha Rai and Ayesha Shakya

From Guranse to Shital Niwas

Shital Niwas, a Rana era royal bungalow turned into Rashtrapati Bhavan after Nepal was declared a republic in 2008, hosted a Madhesi as the country’s first President for more than seven years. Shital Niwas is now welcoming a woman as the head of a state dominated by men.

Born in a lower middle class Brahmin family in Guranse village of Bhojpur district in 1961, Bhandari began her political career by joining a student movement in 1979. She then acquired membership of CPN (ML), went underground and fought against the party-less Panchayat system from Morang district.

While living an underground life, she fell in love with Nepal’s most iconic communist leader Madan Bhandari. They tied the knot in 1982 and gave birth to two daughters. That was then she took her husband’s surname. She was born as a Pandey.

Bidya BhandariAfter the end of Panchayat system and restoration of multi-party democracy in 1990, CPN (ML) became CPN (UML) after unification with CPN (Marxist) and her husband became General Secretary of the unified party.

As wife of an extremely busy political leader and mother of two little daughters, she could not manage time for her public life. She then decided to sacrifice her political career and help her husband from behind as a dutiful wife.

But Madan Bhandari’s mysterious death in 1993 led to her second inning in politics. The UML pitted her against veteran NC leader and former Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. Riding a sympathy wave, she defeated Bhattarai from her late husband’s constituency in Kathmandu.

UML leader Pradip Nepal says Bhandari proved her political capacity in her very first election speech after in 1994. Talking to journalist Kiran Nepal in a radio program in 2012, Nepal said: “Those who saw her delivering political speeches in 1994 still believe that she is no less an orator than her husband.”

Bhandari pulled off another convincing victory by defeating NC leader Daman Nath Dhungana in 1999. But she was defeated by NC’s Suprabha Ghimire in 2008’s first Constituent Assembly (CA) elections.

In 2009, Bhandari became Nepal’s first Defense Minister at a time when the Maoists, not a third largest party and disintegrated like now, were going all out against the army. She stood by the army, inviting wrath from the Maoists. That same year, she became the party’s Vice Chair – a post that she retained even after the party’s latest general convention.

Bhandari is known as a close confidante of the powerful UML Chair and Prime Minister KP Oli. Many believe that she would not have been able to fearlessly face off with the Maoists if not backed by Oli. Not surprisingly, Oli proposed her name when the UML standing committee met early this week to pick a presidential candidate.

Some feminists believe that Bhandari is not a feminist despite being a woman and leading the party’s woman cell for more than a decade. They refer to a print article in which she reportedly attacked Nepal’s feminist movement for being influenced by western values and justified discrimination perpetuated by the patriarchal society. They also criticise her for defending the UML on citizenship provisions, which they believe are discriminatory.

But the reinstated parliament in 2006 had reserved 33 per cent seats for women by voting on a proposal submitted by none other than Bhandari. NC leader Kamala Panta says: “Whether we like it or not, the credit for 33 per cent seats for women goes to her.”

Although he courted some controversy by issuing political statements supporting Madhesi dissenters recently, the outgoing President Ram Baran Yadav’s tenure was a success. He was soft-spoken, disciplined and cautious about presidential grace.

Bhandari, equally soft-spoken and gracious, now has a huge responsibility to take the image of a ceremonial president to the next level.

Om Astha Rai

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9 Responses to “The first woman President”

  1. Nepal just elected its first female president - Quartz on Says:

    […] 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 […]

  2. Nepal just elected its first female president - The Voice Times on Says:

    […] 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 […]

  3. Nepal Has A New President — And It's A She - Status Bomb - The Most Viral News from Around the Web on Says:

    […] Parliament Speaker Onsari Gharti announced to a delighted parliament that Bhandari, of the Nepal Unified Marxist-Leninist party, beat her opponent by more than 100 votes to become president. She was instrumental in the campaign for women’s rights to be included in Nepal’s new constitution. It now requires a third of the members in parliament to be women, and that the president or vice president has to be a woman, the Associated Press reported. (She has, however, been criticized for justifying patriarchal discrimination.) […]

  4. Ravi Raj Kaur on Says:

    Silence is golden a milestone!

  5. Ram on Says:

    A clique of people catapulting all the fools to the important positions will cost heavily to this country.I remember nothing significant done, written or said by Bidhya Devi Bhandari. She was made the president. She didn’t earn it.

  6. Danil Konovalov on Says:

    And what is her program as a President of country?

  7. Zahiruddin Bhatti on Says:

    Congratulations, I hope she will some day visi Pakistan

  8. Népal. Une femme présidente pour la première fois | Peuples & Monde on Says:

    […] l’Histoire mercredi [28 octobre] en élisant la première femme au poste de chef de l’Etat”, écrit le Nepali Times. Bidhya Devi Bhandari, 54 ans, a été élue par 327 voix contre 214 pour son adversaire, Kul […]

  9. Land of our daughters - Machhapuchhre FM Nepalese FM on Says:

    […] year, Nepal made history by appointing a female president, and although Bidya Bhandari has a largely ceremonial role and the widow of Nepal’s respected […]

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