Nepal elects first post-monarchy head of state

Lawmakers in Nepal have chosen a 61-year-old doctor as the country's first elected head of state, nearly two months after voting to abolish a centuries-old monarchy.

The former kingdom of Nepal has its first elected head of state.

Members of the governing constituent assembly in the Himalayan country chose a 61-year-old medical doctor, Ram Baran Yadav, as president Monday, nearly two months after the same body voted to abolish a centuries-old monarchy.

The post of president in Nepal is largely ceremonial, with almost all political power held by the prime minister and cabinet.

But analysts say President Yadav will have to play a key role in the coming days in attempting to ease political tensions in the country between the largest party in the assembly, a former rebel group that adheres to Maoist-inspired communist principles, and more centrist parties.

A Maoist candidate finished second in the presidential ballot and the party’s leaders say they may withdraw from government in protest at their loss.

Yadav will have to swear in a new prime minister and administration to try to end years of political uncertainty and economic decline in the country. Maoists were expected to be given top posts in that government but their anger at losing the presidency has deepened fears of more political instability.

The Maoists waged a bloody 10-year civil war that ended in 2007 with a peace agreement with other parties and commitments to abolish Nepal’s monarchy.

The last king, Gyanendra Shah, was deeply unpopular after using the Nepal army to back a 15-month period of authoritarian rule, in which he restricted civil liberties and led the country into international isolation.

His ouster and the abolition of the monarchy was a hugely popular move in a country that once venerated its royal family as religious and national symbols.

Support for monarchy suffered a huge blow in June of 2001 when nine members of the royal family, including the king and queen at the time, were shot down by the crown prince in a drunken, drug-fuelled rampage at a palace dinner. The prince later killed himself.

Nepal is one of Asia’s poorest countries with more than half of its population living on less than $2 a day and the economy dependent on foreign aid, tourism and remittances from workers abroad.