UN member states will get to question head of UN candidates

Candidates for UN secretary general will face questions from member states for first time in 70-year history of UN as part of transparency efforts

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gestures during a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, April 8, 2016.

For the first time in the 70-year history of the United Nations, all the member states will get a chance to question the candidates for Secretary-General, in a move to make the usually secret selection process more transparent.

Last year, the UN General Assembly responded to the strong demand from many countries that Secretary-General Ban Ki moon's successor be chosen in a more open process, unanimously adopting a resolution allowing public hearings on how candidates would respond to global crises and run the UN's far-flung bureaucracy.

The secretary-general is chosen by the 193-member General Assembly on the recommendation of the 15-member Security Council. This, in practice, has meant that the council's five permanent members - the US, Russia, China, Britain and France - have veto power over the candidates.

This combination of file pictures created on April 10, 2016 shows candidates for the upcoming UN secretary-general election and the United Nation emblem. [AFP]

That will not change in deciding whom to recommend to succeed Ban, whose second five-year term ends on December 31.

But General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft said in a recent interview that the two-hour public discussions with each of the eight current candidates, starting Tuesday, are "potentially game-changing."

If a leading candidate emerges and a critical number of countries rally around him or her, "I think it will be very difficult, and probably not possible, for the Security Council to come up with quite a different candidate," he said.

The resolution adopted last September stresses the need for "gender and geographical balance while meeting the highest possible requirements."

By tradition, the job of secretary-general has rotated among regions. 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 and many countries support the idea of the first female UN chief.

The resolution invited all countries "to consider presenting women as candidates," but also stressed that the candidate must be highly competent.

There are currently four women and four men who have thrown their hats in the ring - six from Eastern Europe, one from Western Europe and one from the Asia-Pacific region.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark speaks during a press conference at Permanent Mission of New Zealand to the United Nations in New York on April 4, 2016. [AFP]

The candidates are;

  • Srgjan Kerim, the former Macedonian Foreign Minister
  • Vesna Pucic, the former Croatian Foreign Minister
  • Danilo Turk, the former Slovenian President
  • Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General from Bulgaria
  • Natalia Gherman, the former Moldovan Foreign Minister
  • Antonio Guterres, the former UN refugee chief and ex-Portuguese Prime Minister
  • Helen Clark, the former New Zealand Prime Minister who heads the UN Development Program
  • Igor Luksic, the former Montenegro Prime Minister and current Foreign Minister.

"I'm sure more candidates will be coming, that's for sure," Lykketoft said, "but how many, I don't know."

There is no deadline for jumping into the race, but diplomats said the Security Council is expected to hold its first "straw poll" on the candidates in late July. The 15 council members will vote "encourage" or "discourage" on each candidate and the result will be made public.

Two women mentioned in UN corridors as possible strong late entries are German Chancellor Angela Merkel, though she reportedly isn't very keen on the job, and Kristalina Georgieva, another Bulgarian who is the European Commission's budget chief and a former top official at the World Bank.

The concentration of power in the five permanent members known as the P-5 often has produced UN chiefs with the appearance, some observers have said, of being more secretary than general.

Montenegro's then Foreign Minister Igor Luksic smiles before a news conference in Helsinki March 6, 2013 in this file photo. [Reuters]

Natalie Samarasinghe, executive director of the United Nations Association-UK and one of the founders of the “1 for 7 Billion” campaign for reform in the secretary-general selection process, said that throughout the UN's history "the Security Council concern has always been, 'who's not going to rock the boat, and who's going to cause the least trouble for us.'"

That dynamic has changed somewhat with the new, more open selection process, which "is going to be impossible for the Security Council to completely ignore," she said.

The interviews will continue through Thursday. Lykketoft said they will be followed by a second round for expected new candidates.

Secretary-General Ban is staying away from the hearings but is "delighted" they are happening, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday.

Asked whether the UN chief had any advice for the candidates ahead of the hearings, Dujarric said that Ban always recalls the advice a middle school teacher in South Korea gave him: "Keep your feet firmly on the ground and your head in the clouds."

TRTWorld, AP