Photo: Former UNHCR head António Guterres at his farewell press conference in December 2015. © UNHCR/J.M. Ferré - Photo: 2016

Neither a Woman nor an East European Next UN Chief?

By Ramesh Jaura

NEW YORK (IDN) – Former Portuguese Prime Minister Antόnio Guterres looks set to succeed Ban Ki-moon as the United Nations Secretary-General in January 2017 if the five permanent members (P5) of the Security Council do not decide to select in the coming weeks a woman or an East European for the world’s topmost post.

By tradition, the job of secretary-general has rotated among regions. Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe have all held the post. East European nations, including Russia, argue that they have never had a Secretary-General and it is their turn.

There has also never been a woman Secretary-General in the 70-year history of the world body and more than 50 nations are campaigning to elect the first female UN chief, along with organizations such as the ‘1 FOR 7 Billion’ campaign.

In the latest round of informal ‘straw’ polls on September 26, Guterres – head of the UN Refugee Agency for ten years until December 2015 – maintained his lead for the fifth time running with 12 “encourage”, two “discourage” and one “no opinion” vote, the same numbers as in the fourth poll.

“This makes him the only candidate receiving more than nine ‘encourage’ votes which, if translated into affirmative votes, are necessary for the (UN Security) Council to recommend a candidate or candidates if the Council were to hold a formal vote,” Ben Donaldson, Head of Campaigns at the United Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK) told IDN.

Following the withdrawal of Costa Rica’s Christiana Figueres, former head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat on September 12, the Security Council had altogether nine candidates to choose from: six from Eastern Europe and four women.

Irina Bokova (Bulgaria), UNESCO Director-General and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, nominated on February 9, 2016.

Helen Clark (New Zealand), Administrator of UN Development Programme and former Prime Minister; nominated on April 4, 2016.

Natalia Gherman (Moldova), former First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, nominated on February 18, 2016.

António Guterres (Portugal), former UN High Commissioner for Refugees and former Prime Minister; nominated on February 29, 2016.

Vuk Jeremić; (Serbia), former Foreign Minister and former President of the 67th session of the General Assembly; nominated on April 12, 2016.

Srgjan Kerim (Macedonia), former Minister of Foreign Affairs and former President of the 62nd session of the General Assembly; nominated on December 18, 2015.

Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia), Minister of Foreign and European Affairs and former High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina; nominated on May 25, 2016.

Susana Malcorra (Argentina), Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship, former Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary-General; nominated on May 18, 2016.

Danilo Türk (Slovenia), former President of Slovenia and former UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs; nominated on February 3, 2016.

Although Serbia’s Vuk Jeremić received two more “discourage” votes and lost one “encourage“ vote, he rose to second position followed by Slovakia’s Miroslav Lajčák who lost two “encourage” votes and received two more “discourage” votes.

The fifth round saw Argentina’s Susana Malcorra maintaining the same number of votes as in the previous three polls but rising to fourth position, shared with Slovenia’s Danilo Türk, both receiving seven “encourage” and seven “discourage” votes with one “no opinion”. 

Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova came in sixth place, not improving her position by receiving one less “encourage” vote and two more “discourage” votes.

Macedonia’s Srgjan Kerim dropped to seventh place. He shared this position with former New Zealand’s Helen Clark. Both received six “encourage” votes and nine “discourage” votes.

Natalia Gherman of Moldova continued to receive the lowest score with three “encourages” and 11 “discourages”, as she did last time.  

Donaldson said: “The Security Council’s decision to recommend a candidate as Secretary-General to the General Assembly is considered a matter of substance requiring an affirmative vote of nine members, with its permanent five members concurring, i.e. not exercising their power to veto.

In the latest round, he added, only Guterres reached a number of votes sufficient to be translated in the required number of affirmative votes. 

All candidates received “discourage” votes, with former Portuguese Prime Minister Guterres receiving the lowest number: two. “It is not known whether any of the ‘discourage’ votes are from veto-carrying members (United States, Russia, China, Britain and France),” Donaldson said.

This will become clearer on October 5, when the Council, with Russia as its President, intends to hold its first colour-coded straw poll, he added. That poll will show whether or not there is agreement among the veto carrying members, as the vote will distinguish between veto-carrying and 10 non-veto-carrying members elected by rotation every two years.

However, the identity of a P5 member casting a “discourage” vote will not be known unless the country in question identifies itself. “It is important to note that the straw polls carried out so far are not official Council votes and that the use of the ‘veto’ in coloured straw polls has not prevented a candidate from becoming Secretary-General in the past,” UNA-UK’s Donaldson said.

After one or more colour-coded straw polls, the Security Council will proceed to vote in a resolution recommending one (or more) candidate(s) to the General Assembly. The Assembly will then appoint the next Secretary-General in a resolution, the contents of which the Assembly started to discuss in a debate of September 29, including the option of a longer, single term.

The 1 For 7 Billion Campaign published a paper on February 29, 2016 setting out the arguments for the UN Secretary-General to stand for a single, non-renewable term of office.

The paper highlights the extensive support shown by a range of UN experts on the single term proposal, notably Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and member of The Elders, and by former Under-Secretary-General Sir Brian Urquhart, who has stated: “The seven year, single term of office is the key to improving the appointment process. It should be established as soon as possible.”

The paper stresses that the leader of the UN “must be able to act decisively in moments of crisis”, rather than being beholden to the will of the most powerful members of the Security Council. A Secretary-General who does not have to concern herself or himself with campaigning for re-election will have the political space to make critical and potentially life-saving decisions.

A longer term of office would also give the next Secretary-General an “uninterrupted timeline” to support the UN in its delivery of two major agreements that will shape international development for the next 15 years: the Sustainable Development Goals and the new climate framework. In this way, a longer, single term would strengthen the Secretary-General’s ability to fulfill his or her global responsibilities in a rapidly changing world, the paper argues. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 September 2016]

Photo: Former UNHCR head António Guterres at his farewell press conference in December 2015. © UNHCR/J.M. Ferré

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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