KATHMANDU • Nepal's Parliament elected lawmaker Bidhya Bhandari (photo) as the country's first female president yesterday, after the adoption of a landmark Constitution last month.
The former defence minister defeated her opponent Kul Bahadur Gurung by 327 to 214 votes to become the Himalayan nation's ceremonial head of state.
Ms Bhandari, the vice-chairman of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), replaces Mr Ram Baran Yadav.
He was elected as the first president in 2008 following the abolition of a 240-year-old Hindu monarchy.
"I announce that Bidhya Devi Bhandari has been elected to the post of Nepal's president," said Speaker of Parliament, Ms Onsari Gharti Magar, to loud cheers from lawmakers.
Ms Bhandari, a rare female face in Nepal's Parliament, took up politics in her teens, seeking to overturn the absolute monarchy and later marrying a fellow communist, Mr Madan Bhandari.
But it was after her husband's death in a vehicle accident in 1993 that the mother of two became a prominent voice, riding a wave of sympathy to win a seat in Parliament.
Mr Yadav was initially supposed to hold office for only two years. But years of political wrangling delayed agreement on a new Constitution, which was only finally adopted last month.
Ms Bhandari, 54, is the second woman to be elected to a senior position since then, after Ms Magar became the country's first female Speaker.
As required by the new charter, the Nepali Parliament also this month elected a new prime minister, Mr KP Sharma Oli, who is tasked with unifying the earthquake-hit country.