Candidates face tougher scrutiny for UN's top post

The selection of the secretary-general will be made by the five permanent members of the Security Council, who will send that person's name to the 193-member General Assembly for approval.
The selection of the secretary-general will be made by the five permanent members of the Security Council, who will send that person's name to the 193-member General Assembly for approval.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

They have to post resumes and face open hearings, in move towards greater transparency

UNITED NATIONS • For the first time in the history of the United Nations, those vying for the post of secretary-general have to post their resumes, subject themselves to open hearings and declare publicly why they want this plum - and thankless - job.

Four of the eight men and women seeking the post this year are former presidents or prime ministers. Half are women, reflecting a push by civil rights groups for the organisation to be led by a woman for the first time in its 70 years. Four are from countries that were once part of Yugoslavia, and two now serve as chiefs of UN agencies, making it incumbent on them to show that they are not exploiting agency resources to run their campaigns.

In the end, the selection will be made by the five permanent members of the Security Council, who will send that person's name to the 193-member General Assembly for approval. As in the past, the deliberations are likely to be shaped more by diplomatic jockeying between Moscow and Washington than what the candidates say or do in public hearings that start next week.

The Russian ambassador, Mr Vitaly Churkin, made this clear to diplomats who asked him about the new pressure for transparency. All of this only sharpens the fundamental dilemma for the next secretary-general: Will she or he be more of a secretary or a general, and how much of each role will the world powers tolerate?

Critics say that the secretary-general has become far too beholden to the wishes of the world's most powerful countries, so much so that it has become customary for the most senior positions in the secretary-general's office to be divided among permanent members of the Security Council.

  • IN THE RUNNING

  • IRINA BOKOVA (BULGARIA):
    Ms Bokova, 63, is the first female director-general of Unesco.

  • HELEN CLARK (NEW ZEALAND):
    Ms Clark, 66, was the first female prime minister of New Zealand.

  • NATALIA GHERMAN (MOLDOVA):
    Ms Gherman, 47, is a former deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Moldova.

  • ANTONIO GUTERRES (PORTUGAL): Mr Guterres, 66, is a former prime minister of Portugal and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005 to 2015.

  • SRGJAN KERIM (MACEDONIA): Mr Kerim, 67, is a former foreign minister of Macedonia.

  • IGOR LUKSIC (MONTENEGRO): Mr Luksic, 39, was the prime minister of Montenegro and is now its foreign minister.

  • VESNA PUSIC (CROATIA): Ms Pusic, 63, is Deputy Speaker of Croatia's Parliament and served as foreign minister from 2011 till January this year.

  •  

    DANILO TURK (SLOVENIA): Mr Turk, 64, was president of Slovenia from 2007 to 2012.

The last four peacekeeping department chiefs have been French, the last three humanitarian chiefs have been British, and the United States has commandeered the top job for political affairs for nearly a decade.

As if to underscore the sensitivity of these appointments, Ms Helen Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand, who declared her candidacy on Monday evening, demurred.

"The last thing I'm going to do is pronounce on appointments now," she said with nervous laughter, adding in an interview that she had been "fair" in the appointments she made as head of the UN Development Programme.

Mr Danilo Turk, a former president of Slovenia, emphasised his own impartiality, saying in an e-mail that he would make appointments based on "efficiency, competence and integrity", not what countries the candidates came from.

Ms Vesna Pusic, a former foreign minister of Croatia, described herself as a leader who could bring people together and said the protocol could not be changed overnight.

The two other prominent contenders - Mr Antonio Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal and, until last year, head of the UN refugee agency, and Ms Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian diplomat who heads Unesco - did not respond to e-mail messages sent to their offices.

The three other candidates, all relatively unknown, are former Moldovan foreign minister Natalia Gherman; former Macedonian foreign minister Srgjan Kerim; and Montenegro Foreign Minister and former prime minister Igor Luksic.

More names could be floated in the coming months, including a second Bulgarian: Ms Kristalina Georgieva, a former World Bank official who is now a vice-president of the European Union.

Then there is Dr Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. Her name has been circulating for months, though in recent weeks diplomats have said the prospects are slim.

For the head of state of such a powerful country to lead the United Nations would be highly unusual, tipping the scale that Mr Ban's successor would be more like a general than a secretary.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'Candidates face tougher scrutiny for UN's top post'. Print Edition | Subscribe