On July 21 the UN Security Council ignited confrontation with the President of the General Assembly after it held behind closed doors its first informal, secretive straw poll on the 12 new Secretary General candidates seeking to replace Ban Ki-moon next year. One of the P5 members leaked that Former Prime Minister of Portugal and former UNHCR Chief Antonio Guterres was first in the poll, followed by Slovenia’s former President Danilo Turk. In third place came UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, Serbia’s former Foreign Minister and Former President of UNGA Vuk Jeremic, and former Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgian Kerim.
The 15 Security Council members today rated the candidates with either “encourage,” “discourage,” or “no opinion.” Guterres won the poll with 12 encouragements–Turk trailed by one, but also got two “discourage” votes. Bokova got nine “encourage” votes, the most of all the women, with New Zealand’s former Prime Minister Helen Clark coming second to her with eight encouragements. Former Croatian Foreign Minister Nesna Pusic got 11 discouragements, the most of all the candidates.
“Guterres is the man to beat,” a Security Council diplomat told Agence France Press. “He has done very well.”
Half of the 12 candidates are women, but council diplomats said that some were expected to withdraw following this first poll, weakening many peoples’ hopes for the first female SG. Several UN representatives expressed that it is time for a woman to be appointed to the organization’s top job, but that it is more important for the most qualified candidate to prevail. The Security Council is expected to meet as early as next week for a second round of polling, with the nominee announcement coming in October.
“It is high time for a woman,” said British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft. He later added, however, that of the candidates there are “very, very strong men,” and Britain will not vote against a candidate because of their gender.
Before the vote U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters, “This could not be a more important job and it could not be a more important time to choose the best possible leader for this organization on which so much depends and so many depend.”
“We think the results reflect very much the performance in the hearings,” said a council diplomat to the AFP.
The recent hearings and debate have been a part of the campaign pushed for by Danish GA President Mogens Lykketoft and member states to make the appointment process of the Secretary General more transparent and inclusive in the UN. Since the UN’s formation, the SG appointment process has been almost completely behind closed doors, out of the public eye. This time around the council agreed to transparency measures. The SC’s reversion to private straw polls today, however, has created tension between the council and Lykketoft’s Assembly.
Security Council President from Japan Koro Bessho informed the press today about the straw poll and was asked about the transparency of the vote. Without disclosing any results, he told the press, “I think you know that the UN has made some very important steps in choosing the next Secretary General, and as you know, the General Assembly has been very keen to its part. The Security Council, as you know, unlike previous occasions, had informal meetings with each candidate and based on that we had this straw poll.”
When asked whether or not he told Lykketoft the poll results, Bessho first said yes, but quickly corrected himself that he did not.
Lykketoft, emerging as a charismatic leader of this session’s General Assembly, responded critically with a letter to each of the UN member states. He wrote, “In my view, limiting the communication to the fact that the informal straw poll has taken place without any further detail adds little value and does not live up to the expectations of the membership and the new standard of openness and transparency.”
“Going forward, and in light of the above, future communications from my Office that informal straw polls have taken place will be conveyed via announcements on my web page as soon as they are received from the President of the Security Council,” he concluded. The letter was posted on his Twitter.
— UN GA President (@UN_PGA) July 21, 2016
Japanese Ambassador Bessho defended the SC’s secrecy, reporting that the straw poll was a “useful procedure.” Perhaps his defensiveness and willingness to defend the Security Council traditional process is influenced by his home country Japan’s diplomatic strategy. Germany and Japan have been pursuing the “quick fix” for over 20 years–the passage of a reform (that has to pass the vote of the General Assembly) granting both nations permanent membership to the Security Council. Now, India and Brazil’s desire (+ South Africa) for permanent membership renders this “quick fix” far more complicated, but it is possible that Bessho’s loyal behavior is a way for him to butter up his nation’s diplomatic ambitions.
Regardless, the Security Council has turned its back on Lykketoft and the General Assembly, snatching back its right to secrecy. Lykketoft has responded quite boldly and based on his and Bessho’s lack of communication, it looks like this will be a continual issue in this appointment period.