Move aside, president of Uruguay: We have a new ‘poorest world leader’

When people write about José Mujica, the president of Uruguay, they usually note a number of things about him: His frugality, the austerity of his lifestyle, sometimes his lack of shoes. The BBC even called him the "world's poorest president" a few years back.

It's an impressive reputation that appears to be bellied by a heartfelt concern about economic inequality, and it was well illustrated recently by a photograph of Mujica dressed quite stereo-typically at a government meeting.


Uruguay President Jose Mujica, center, sits between his vice president, Danilo Astori, left, and his finance minister, Mario Bergara. (Matilde Campodonico/ AP)

Mujica's frugal lifestyle will always be admirable, but he may be facing a challenge to his crown of world's 'poorest' world leader. According to new reports, Nepali Prime Minister Sushil Koirala appears to have now taken his throne.


Nepal's newly elected Prime Minister Sushil Koirala waves to the media at the Constitution Assembly Hall, in Katmandu, Nepal, Monday, Feb.10, 2014. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Koirala was sworn in Feb. 11, and while he was already known for a frugal lifestyle (he's from a rich family but declined an inheritance from his father), his reputation has been bolstered by a number of actions since taking office.

For example, his declared possessions on his Web site are three cellphones – one of which is an iPhone and another doesn't actually work.

That's not much, even compared to Mujica, whose only listed possession is a 20-year-old Volkswagon Beetle, reportedly valued at $1,900 in 2010. Koirala reportedly owns no land either: He lived in a rented house until recently; he's now residing in the prime minister's official residence. Koirala's lifestyle is said to come from his simple tastes. According to the BBC, he even gave back $650 he had received as an allowance for a recent trip to Burma.

Both Mujica and Koirala's frugality seem to have been influenced by their radical younger years: Mujica was a formerly member of the left-wing guerrilla group Tupamaros, while Koirala was jailed in the his 30s for his involvement in a plane hijacking.

Mujica may be able to keep at least some of his titles on a technicality, however. In Uruguay's presidential system, he is both the head of government and head of state. Nepal, however, has both a prime minister and a president. While Koirala may control the government and hold the real power, the head of state is President Ram Baran Yadav.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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