NEW YORK • European Commission vice-president Kristalina Georgieva has given her clearest signal yet that she is ready to enter the race to become the next secretary- general of the United Nations.
Ms Georgieva, a 63-year-old Bulgarian economist who serves as the European Union's budget commissioner and is backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said it was up to the Bulgarian government to decide on whether to nominate her as a candidate to succeed incumbent Ban Ki Moon.
"I'm very honoured that many people are encouraging me to run," Ms Georgieva said at an event organised by the International Peace Institute think-tank. "As a Bulgarian national, I would say that this is a decision for the Bulgarian government."
There are nine candidates in the race, among them another Bulgarian, Unesco chief Irina Bokova. But her poor showing in four straw polls held by the Security Council to gauge support for the contenders - she was fifth in the last round - has cast doubt on the success of her bid.
Portugal's former prime minister Antonio Guterres was the front runner in all four polls, garnering the support of 80 per cent of council members, but Russia has said the next UN chief should be from eastern Europe, the only region yet to be represented in the top post.
Mr Guterres, 67, the most recent head of the UN's refugee agency, said on Wednesday: "I cannot change what I am." He added that "if the decision is that the symbolic value of having a woman is what matters, then choose another person".
UN SEC-GEN CANDIDATES
Mr Antonio Guterres, former prime minister of Portugal
Mr Vuk Jeremic, former Serbian foreign minister
Ms Susana Malcorra, Argentina's Foreign Minister
Dr Danilo Turk, former Slovenia president
Ms Irina Bokova, Unesco chief
Dr Srgjan Kerim, former Macedonia foreign minister
Ms Helen Clark, former New Zealand prime minister
Ms Natalia Gherman, former Moldova foreign minister
Mr Miroslav Lajcak, Slovakia's Foreign Minister
Council members are facing calls to pick the first woman for the top job, after eight male leaders since its founding in 1945.
A new straw poll will be held next Monday, after which Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov may switch candidates and put forward Ms Georgieva. "If after the 26th (Ms Bokova) is not first or second, there will not be the means to pursue this and we will see together what to do," he said earlier this month.
Speculation intensified after Dr Merkel discussed Ms Georgieva's possible run with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit this month.
Ms Georgieva, in New York for the UN General Assembly, dismissed reports that other eastern European countries could present her candidacy. "I am not seeking or willing to be nominated by a different country, because this is my country, I love it. There is no way I would do anything that puts me at odds with being a Bulgarian," she said.
Tradition calls for the 15-member Security Council to pick a name for the one-nation, one-vote General Assembly to rubber-stamp next month. The meeting this week could tilt the scales. But horse trading behind the scenes may see an early favourite displaced by a compromise candidate who will not upset a delicate power balance among the five veto-wielding nations: the US, Russia, France, China and Britain.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG