With Helen Clarke and Antonio Guterres announcing their candidatures for the secretary-general post, the longstanding claim that the next UN chief should be from Eastern Europe, under a system of traditional geographical rotation, has been undermined.
United Nations: When Antonio Guterres, the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees and ex-Prime Minister of Portugal, announced his candidature for the post of UN Secretary-General on February 29, he virtually undermined the longstanding claim that the next UN chief should be from Eastern Europe under a system of traditional geographical rotation.
But traditions are generally meant to be trodden down – at least at the UN.
Until Guterres’ declaration, all other officially declared candidates were from Eastern Europe: Srgjan Kerim of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Vesna Pusic of the Republic of Croatia; Igor Luksic of Montenegro; Danilo Turk of Slovenia; Irina Bokova of Bulgaria and Natalia Gherman of Republic of Moldova.
On April 4, Helen Clark, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, announced her official candidature for the same post, throwing the race even more widely open.
The Eastern Europeans have now been joined by a candidate from Western Europe and also one from the Pacific.
At a press briefing at the New Zealand Mission to the UN on April 4, Clark described the race for secretary-general as an “open contest” – with no candidates barred from competing for the job.
“I decided to run having received the full backing of the New Zealand government, because I believe I have the skills for the job. It is an extremely challenging position but I’m used to that.”
“My whole adult life has seen me progressively stepping up to leadership challenges including to those in my own country and then here at the United Nations, heading the development system these past seven years,” said Clark, currently administrator of the UN Development Programme, holding the rank of under-secretary-general.
She rightly pointed out that when nominations were called for from UN member states, they were called for from all 193 member states – irrespective of geographical regions.
“Already one senior representative from outside Eastern Europe has been nominated. I anticipate there will be other nominations,” she added.
“I judge it to be an open contest and my hope is that Member States will look at what are the challenges that the secretary-general’s going to have to lead the organisation forward on and who has the best skills for that job,” Clark declared.
Asked if the next secretary-general should be a woman, she said: “I am seeking the position because I believe I am the best person for the job. Obviously, I am a woman, but I’ve never sought election on the basis of being a woman.”
She also added: “I’ve always sought election, and I’ve sought election many times in my life, as the best person for the job. In the normal course of events, I like advocates of gender equality and women’s empowerment around the world, would like to see women have a fair chance, an equal chance at every position of responsibility. That applies to the United Nations as it applies to governments, as it applies to leadership positions in general.”
Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports said that Clark’s is not the last nomination to the post. Some ‘old’ and new names were being mentioned on April 5, among them: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet; Mexico’s Alicia Bárcena Ibarra, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean; Costa Rica’s Rebeca Grynspan, former UN Under-Secretary-General; former Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín; Argentina’s Susana Malcorra, United Nations Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary-General and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Some of the new names cropping up are: Former Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and US business magnate, politician, and philanthropist Michael Rubens Bloomberg. With a net worth of $43.7 billion, Bloomberg is the sixth-wealthiest person in the US and the eighth-wealthiest in the world.
While speculations about potential candidates persist, the UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft has set up a website on which the names and CVs of all eight candidates for the top job – whose official candidature has been confirmed – have been posted.
In a letter dated February 25, Lykketoft informed all UN member states of his intention to begin the meetings with all candidates who had been formally presented by April.
“The informal dialogues or meetings will be as open and transparent as possible, with the considerable interest from the global public and civil society being duly kept in mind,” the letter stated.
Lykketoft said at a press briefing on February 26 at the UN Headquarters in New York: “I think this is quite historic and potentially game-changing for the way the secretary-general is appointed.”
Forthcoming sessions on April 12 and 14 promise to go down in the annals of history of the UN. For the first time, 193 member states of the UN and some selected sections of the general public will be given the opportunity of “an informal dialogue” with potential candidates for the prestigious post of the secretary-general.
Each candidate will be offered a two-hour meeting slot to present his or her candidature and UN member states will have the opportunity to ask questions and interact with each person. Each candidate will be asked to provide a short vision statement of up to 2,000 words in advance, which Lykketoft’s office will circulate to member states and the public.
Furthermore, each candidate will be asked to lay out his or her “vision . . . on challenges and opportunities that the United Nations and the next secretary-general may encounter such as in the fields of peace and security, sustainable development, human rights, humanitarian response and issues pertaining to the management of the Organization”.
Time permitting, one or two representatives of the civil society will be given the floor. To top it all, meetings will be open and webcast with interpretation in all official languages and will follow “General Assembly seating protocol, a link to each webcast will be posted on the President’s webpage for future record”.
According to the UN Charter, the secretary-general is appointed by the General Assembly following the recommendation of the Security Council. In as significant move, Lykkeroft along with Security Council President Samantha Power, issued a letter to member states on December 15, 2015 to begin soliciting candidates, and to set in motion the selection and appointment process