UN chief hopefuls take part in first-ever TV debate

UN Secretary-General candidates (from left) Ms Irina Bokova, Mr Igor Luksic, Ms Christiana Figueres, Mr Danilo Turk, former president of Slovenia, and Ms Helen Clark at a townhall meeting on Tuesday. Two debates - with five candidates in each group -
UN Secretary-General candidates (from left) Ms Irina Bokova, Mr Igor Luksic, Ms Christiana Figueres, Mr Danilo Turk, former president of Slovenia, and Ms Helen Clark at a townhall meeting on Tuesday. Two debates - with five candidates in each group - were broadcast live around the world on the Al Jazeera television network and on the UN website.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

UNITED NATIONS • Ten of the 12 candidates vying to be the next United Nations (UN) Secretary-General have taken part in live televised debate, a first for the world body, but attempts to bring unprecedented transparency to the race will not extend to the Security Council selection process.

The 193-member UN General Assembly has sought to lift a veil of secrecy that has surrounded the election of the UN chief for the past 70 years by requiring public nominations and holding campaign-style townhall events with each candidate. That transparency extended to two debates - with five candidates in each group - in the General Assembly on Tuesday, which was broadcast live around the world on the Al Jazeera television network and on the UN website.

Candidates were pressed by the Al Jazeera hosts, and took questions from the audience, on issues such as leadership style, climate change, the International Criminal Court, the civil war in Syria and the recent eruption of fighting in South Sudan, where UN peacekeepers are struggling to protect civilians.

However, when the 15-member Security Council starts holding informal secret ballots next week to choose a candidate to recommend to the General Assembly for election later this year, the results of those closed-door polls will not be made public.

Council members will be given a ballot for each candidate with the options of encourage, discourage and no opinion. The council will tally the ballots and inform the nominating states of the results for their candidate, but the overall results will not be made known to the public.

Ultimately, the five nations that hold a veto on the Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - have to agree on a candidate and there is no requirement for them to pay attention to the popularity of candidates with the General Assembly.

The council hopes to agree on a candidate by October, diplomats say.

The search for a successor to Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon - a former South Korean foreign minister who steps down at the end of the year after two five-year terms - has sparked a push by more than a quarter of the 193 UN states for the world body's first female leader.

Half of the candidates so far are women: UN cultural organisation Unesco director-general Irina Bokova of Bulgaria; former Croatian foreign minister Vesna Pusic; Moldova's former foreign minister Natalia Gherman; former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, who heads the UN Development Programme; Argentinian foreign minister Susana Malcorra; and former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica. The six men in the race include Montenegro Foreign Minister Igor Luksic and Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2016, with the headline 'UN chief hopefuls take part in first-ever TV debate'. Print Edition | Subscribe