Photo: A wide view of the proceedings on informal dialogues with candidates for the position of UN Secretary-General. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Photo: A wide view of the proceedings on informal dialogues with candidates for the position of UN Secretary-General. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas - Photo: 2016

First Phase of Historic Process to Elect New UN Chief Concludes

Analysis by Ramesh Jaura

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – There was quite some disquiet particularly among a large number of developing countries when Helen Clark, a former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), announced her official candidature on April 4, underlining her conviction that she was “up to the task” of leading the United Nations.

Earlier, on February 29, Antonio Guterres, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees and ex-Prime Minister of Portugal, had announced his official candidature for the post of the UN Chief.

In doing so, the two aspirants had virtually undermined the longstanding claim that Ban’s successor should be from Eastern Europe under a system of traditional geographical rotation. “This system has ensured that the post of the world’s topmost diplomat is not monopolized by the rich and powerful,” a developing country diplomat told IDN.

Representatives of the smaller and developing nations do not have huge funds and staff at their disposal that would be required to push through their candidates against the “widely more influential and powerful” of the world, the diplomat said on condition that he not be named.

Knowledgeable sources said that the view is shared by a “huge” number of G77 countries comprising 134 countries including China, from around the world.

They have taken note of UN General Assembly President Morgens Lykketoft’s remarks in an interview with the UN News Centre on April 8 in which he expressed the view that the international community is ready to accept a female Secretary-General.

“We have to keep clear, I think, that we have to find the best person. But many of us don’t see any reason why the best person should not be a woman for the first time,” he said. “And that’s an argument in itself.”

In addition to gender, there is an additional consideration that could potentially give some an advantage. Eastern Europe is the only region thus far without a previous Secretary-General, Lykketoft was quoted saying.

How far “a potentially game changing process” under way, involving for the first time in the 70-year history of the UN, public discussions with each of the nine candidates campaigning for the world’s top diplomatic post, would succeed in selecting an East European and a woman Secretary-General, remains to be seen.

Never before has a UN Chief been an East European – because countries of the region belonged to the then Soviet sphere of influence as opposed to Western Europe. And, all the eight Secretary-Generals were men – a reason that there has been an increasing demand to finally go in for a female UN Chief.

Except for the prime ministers of Portugal and New Zealand, seven of the nine contenders for the job are East Europeans, including Vuk Jeremic who was the President of the 67th session of the UN General Assembly and a former Foreign Minister of Serbia.

Jeremic’s candidature was officially announced on April 12, when the first session of informal briefings to hear the views of candidates was convened by the current UN General Assembly President.

The other male candidates from Eastern Europe are: Srgjan Kerim, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the President of the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly; Igor Luksic, current Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Montenegro; and Danilo Türk, former President of Slovenia.

The three women candidates from Eastern Europe are: UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria; Vesna Pusić, former Foreign Minister of Croatia, and Natalia Gherman, former Foreign Minister of the Republic of Moldova.

In three sessions on April 12, 13 and 14, each candidate was given a televised and webcast two-hour timeslot, starting with a short oral presentation. Representatives from Member States then asked questions, followed by the President of the General Assembly, who asked a few of the more than 1,000 questions submitted by the general public on social media under the hashtag #UNSGcandidates.

The candidates had to answer questions on how they would promote sustainable development, improve efforts to create peace, protect human rights, and deal with huge humanitarian catastrophes should they be selected to lead the 193-member Organization.

“We are sailing into uncharted waters here,” said Lykketoft addressing the press ahead of the start of the informal dialogues.

Opening the dialogues, he underscored that as the UN grapples with multiple crises and deals with “fundamental questions regarding its own role and performance,” finding the best candidate to succeed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is “absolutely crucial.”

“Much of what we are embarking on today is without precedent at the UN,” he stressed.

“For the first time in this Organization’s 70-year history, the process for selecting and appointing the next Secretary-General is being genuinely guided by principles of transparency and inclusivity – and the dialogues that we are beginning today are at the very core of this change,” he added.

“The level of interest in these dialogues from the global public and civil society is extraordinary,” he said.

Lykketoft expressed optimism that all this will culminate “in a very transparent process which hopefully also will lead to a much clearer formulation of what are we expecting from the membership of the United Nations of the challenges and competencies of the next Secretary-General.”

Given that these dialogues could potentially sway the election process, it might be assumed that there is some resistance from the Security Council – a body where 178 Member States of the General Assembly are not represented.

Lykketoft says that is not the case: “The growing understanding, even from the strongest and biggest of powers, [is] that the most existential problems on this globe can only be solved in cooperation. And therefore, we need a strong United Nations, and that ought to be reflected in the way we select and the competencies we demand from the new Secretary-General.”

The UN Charter, signed in 1945 as the foundation of the Organization, says relatively little about how a Secretary-General is to be selected, aside from Article 97, which notes that the candidate “shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council”.

At its first session in 1946, the General Assembly was much more active in the selection process. It created resolution A/RES/1/11 determining that the Council take the lead in the selection process, agree on a single name in a private meeting, and pass that name down to the General Assembly for a vote.

Since 1946, the Security Council has done just that, discussing and voting behind closed doors in straw polls for members to either ‘encourage’ or ‘discourage’ a candidate to continue. This process has come to be known as the ‘Wisnumurti Guidelines,’ named after Ambassador Nugroho Wisnumurti of Indonesia who held the rotating presidency of the Council in November 1996 when the guidelines were set.

These straw polls continue until there is a majority candidate without a single veto from a permanent member of the Security Council. That name is then officially transferred to the General Assembly, whose membership historically rubber stamps the candidate.

But in recent years, there has been a push for greater transparency to those straw polls, not just within the political circles but from civil society, including the ‘1 for 7 billion’ campaign, which includes the World Federation of UN Associations, among others.

“It’s an expression of living in a different time and age,” Lykketof told the UN News Centre. “There is this strong opinion on it from very many Member States that they want to know much better the candidates, and maybe even formulate an opinion of who is going to be Secretary-General before the deliberations will start in the Security Council.”

This is where the game could potentially change, as Lykketof noted. If a majority of the nations rally around one candidate, “it will be very difficult to think of the Security Council coming up with another, different name,” he said.

“But if there are many candidates and no clear picture, it could very well be the same end-game as it used to be.”

The ideal candidate would have the “contact with the global public opinion and authority to call to the major and minor powers, particularly in the Security Council, to act timely,” he noted, referring to stalled action in the Council on a number of threats to international peace and security. “I hope that the world and the world power are ready to accept that the Secretary-General at the outset should be a strong and independent personality,” he added. [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 April 2016]

IDN is the flagship of International Press Syndicate.

Photo: A wide view of the proceedings on informal dialogues with candidates for the position of UN Secretary-General. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

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