On 12 July, the General Assembly Hall of the UN Headquarters in New York filled with diplomats, ambassadors, journalists, and civil society representatives- all gathered to attend the first Town Hall organized on the occasion of the “campaign” that will lead to the election the new UN Secretary General, whose term will begin January 1, 2017 .
Traditionally, since 1945, the election of the Secretary General has been conducted exclusively by the General Assembly under recommendation from the Security Council. This year, the process has been made more transparent in order to best address stakeholders in diplomatic relations- giving the opportunity to each of the 12 candidates to be at the judgment of the ordinary citizen.
The President of the General Assembly Morgens Lykketoft stated: “In the past, the Secretary General of the United Nations was chosen behind closed doors. Today, we want to ensure that the Member of the organization and the whole world should have the opportunity to learn about the candidates, their vision, and how they behave.” Although the process has become far more transparent, the public still holds no key role in the election. The final choice will still be made by the Security Council members but its key five states – the US, China, Russia, Britain and France – still make the big decision, have the swaying power of the vetoes.
The debate was split into two groups of 5 candidates; each taking turns answering questions on leadership style, climate change, the International Criminal Court, the migrants and refugees crisis, the civil war in Syria and the recent eruption of fighting in South Sudan. All candidates proved to be strong and decisive in their statements- with the hope that the successor of Ban Ki -moon is a woman remaining high- particularly with Bokova, Figueres, Malcorra, and Clark as the prime contenders.
Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, and Bulgarian Foreign Minister, who is keen to capitalize on her long experience with the organization, is deemed the favored candidate. Bokova relies on her experience to push for education and equality of genders as her main characterizing factor. Her stance on Syria remains grounded, stating that “to apply the resolutions issued by organs of the United Nations is essential to rebuild confidence. Today there is a lack of confidence and I think the first responsibility of the next Secretary-General should be the rebuilding of trust in order to allow negotiations. I think this is extremely important.” What Bokova lacks, however, is the acceptance of her nomination by the United States, given her strong ties with Vladimir Putin and amidst throws of poor budgetary planning accusations.
Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica and former Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a popular figure however her strong personality makes the Security Council weary and more apt to select a seasoned UN member such as Irina Bokova. Susana Malcorra, nominated by Argentina, adapted to her personal beliefs of being courageous and willing to collaborate as her defying factor. Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand for 9 years, seasoned her arguments around her role in migration and immigration to her country. Clark’s political background makes her appealing to tackle the issue of migration and joked on the issue of geographical rotation, which is the idea that each UN Secretary General is chosen on the basis of representation by their background. This year it is Eastern Europe, which only futher solidifies candidate Irina Bokova’s status of her nomination.
Among the male contenders, António Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal and former High Commissioner for Refugees, held the most composure and gained the most attention from the public. Guterres called the Secretary General of the United Nations a guide in the fight against extremism, racism and inequality. “These are – he added – the values that have served all my life”. The candidate also stressed the importance of approaching the UN to the people using a language understood by all, saying: “A guide is not recognized by rhetoric, but by substance.” The UN has often been criticized for its inability to relate to the public, using lofty explanations for their simplest activities, further gapping the issues between the governed and governing.
Most of the questions formed around the role of the Security Council to reform and Gender Equality. All candidates were expressive on their roles to end gender inequality. Pusic, when questioned on the subject, stated, “I am a woman, but this is not enough: I am a feminist.” Malcorra recalled how the issue of gender equality does not touch only the organization of the United Nations but the whole working world. “Right now, the United Nations must set an example,” said the Argentine candidate.
In the case of the Security Council Reform, different ideas were presented by without the willingness of the council itself to see its lack of success; it will be a difficult task to accomplish.
The road to the election is still long and the candidates will have other opportunities to address the public, ultimately leaving their fate to the Security Council.