Nepal’s first president sworn in with pomp and pride

July 23rd, 2008 - 7:08 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 23 (IANS) A new chapter began in Nepal’s history Wednesday with a 61-year-old physician from an impoverished peasant’s family being sworn in as the Himalayan republic’s first president, replacing dethroned king Gyanendra as head of state and assuming office in a former palace once out of bounds for commoners. Ram Baran Yadav, a renowned physician who gave up medicine to join politics as a member of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s ruling Nepali Congress, resigned from his party and gave up his seat in the constituent assembly to be administered the oaths of office and secrecy in a brief but grand ceremony Wednesday.

Shital Niwas, once a palace and later Nepal’s foreign affairs ministry office, was renovated almost overnight to become Rashtrapati Bhavan - the residence as well as office of the first president where chief justice Kedar Prasad Giri swore him in to office.

After assuming office, the new president administered the oaths of office and secrecy to newly-elected vice-president, former judge Parmanand Jha.

Though both Yadav and Jha belong to the Madhesi community - people of Indian origin living in the Terai plains along the Indo-Nepal border, the oath-taking was a study in contrasts.

Yadav, a seasoned politician and former health minister, wore the traditional Nepali attire daura suruwal - tight trousers with a long shirt - topped by a grey coat and traditional black Nepali cap.

Jha, on the other hand, wore the dhoti favoured by Indians and looked down upon in Nepal.

While Yadav took the oath in Nepali, Jha took his in Hindi, defying an earlier furore caused by Terai legislators who took oath of office in Hindi in the constituent assembly.

From Wednesday, Yadav also becomes the new supreme commander of the Nepal army, a position once held by the Shah kings of Nepal.

The ceremony was attended by the prime minister and his cabinet, legislators, chiefs of constitutional bodies, foreign diplomats and members of the public.

However, ousted king Gyanendra, who is in virtual exile, was not invited to the programme though royalist politicians and former ministers in the king’s cabinet were present.

The new president, who celebrated his election Monday by offering thanksgiving at the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, headed for a public ground in the capital to honour the martyrs who had laid down their lives for democracy.

He was also scheduled to take a 21-gun salute from the army.

In a short, emotional address after being administered the oath of office, Nepal’s first president said he was committed to institutionalising democracy, drafting a new constitution within the stipulated two years and holding timely elections.

He said he would work to uphold the sovereignty of Nepal and national unity and the advancement of the peace process.

“I am the people’s representative,” Yadav said. “I am committed to working for the welfare of the Nepali people.”

He also pledged to foster unity between Nepal’s plains and hill communities and preserve the natural resources of both regions.

Though the Indian government, which had shown intense interest in Nepal’s presidential election, remained strangely silent after Yadav’s victory, the Indian ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood attended the ceremony and offered his congratulations.

Koirala, who had submitted his resignation at the constituent assembly earlier, will now formally tender it to the new president.

His council of ministers Wednesday held its last meeting and is now awaiting dissolution.

Though the Maoists were expected to form the new government following their win in the April election, the smarting defeat suffered by them in the presidential poll made the party declare that they would relinquish their claim and sit in opposition.

Koirala’s Nepali Congress and its allies in the presidential election - the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist and Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) - may now try to form the new government as together they have the simple majority required for that.

While the MJF has announced its intention to claim the post of prime minister, reports Wednesday said that 83-year-old Koirala, who had set his sights on the first presidency but was thwarted by the Maoists, is likely to stake his claim as well.

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