Nepal announces that elections open to members of 'third gender'
KATHMANDU, Nepal -- In a major shift for this Himalayan nation, the Nepali government's Election Commission said Monday that LGBT and inter-sex Nepalis are able to register as “third gender” for the first time in the country's history and campaign openly for legislative seats in the scheduled November 19 national elections.
The country has a population of about 26.6 million people, of which there are 12.5 million registered voters.
According to the Nepali LGBTQI advocacy group Blue Diamond Society-based in Kathmandu, there are roughly around a half million Nepalese who qualify as third gender.
The Nepal Central Bureau of Statistics conducted a widespread national census in 2011, and its census officials have not yet finalized their count of the country’s LGBTI population.
"We implement gender balance and inclusiveness in our policy, and will take the necessary initiatives to create an environment for the third gender to participate in elections," Election Commission spokesman Bir Bahadur Rai said.
The election commission ran a massive campaign in September during voter registration to encourage transsexual or transgender voters to sign up under the new third gender designation.
The major political parties in the country have accepted LGBTI candidates, allowing them to to appear on their tickets.
"Even though the major political forces have accepted sexual minorities, traditional Nepalese society has not accepted them," Purushottam Dahal, a political science professor at Nepal Sanskrit University and former editor of the national Rajdhani newspaper, told the United Press International.
"Sexual minority candidates are not likely to affect the results if they run as independents. But if major political parties nominate them as election candidates, they will have a significant effect on the result," Dahal said.
The UPI also reported that sixty-two third-gender candidates, representing many of Nepal's 130 registered political parties, have been announced for the country's 601-seat Constituent Assembly in 31 of Nepal's 75 electoral districts.
"This will pressure the government, the election commission and political parties to create a conducive environment for the election," Sunil Babu Pant, who became Nepal's first gay parliamentarian when he won a seat in 2008.
He added, "If we are denied, we will contest as independent candidates."
The country's Supreme Court in December 2007 ordered that sexual minorities be guaranteed the same rights as other citizens, such as rights to employment and education.