Chance of woman becoming UN chief still elusive

United Nations, Aug 30 (IANS) The campaign to elect a woman as the next UN Secretary General faltered with men keeping the top spots in the third preliminary poll of Security Council members on Monday that showed some dramatic shifts reflecting the intense lobbying.

Portugal’s former Prime Minister Antonio Guterres maintained his lead with 11 positive votes and Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak shot up with nine positive votes to the second spot from the second lowest ranking in the last poll on August 5.

UNESCO head Irina Bokova got seven positive votes and moved up to the third spot from fifth. In the geographic rotation of the top UN job, it is the turn of a European and nations from the East have laid claim to it because all the three secretaries general from the continent have been from the West. Bokova fits the bill as both a woman and an East European.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has endorsed the idea of a woman succeeding him, saying “it’s high time now” with so “many distinguished, motivated women leaders who can really change this world”.

More than 40 countries have come together in the Group of Friends in Favor of a Woman for Secretary-General to campaign for the cause at the UN.

Last December General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft and the then Security Council President Samantha Power of the United States jointly called for nomination of women for the job of the world’s top diplomat.

But the Council made up of 14 are men and a lone woman, Power, has favored men in the three informal polls.

The race is still open as more informal voting, known as straw polls, are to be held till the five permanent members with veto powers can agree on a candidate who also has majority support in the Council to recommend to the 193-member General Assembly. The Assembly has rubber-stamped the Council recommendations for the eight secretary generals so far.

The two men topping the poll, who are the only ones to gain more than half the number of positive votes in the Council, and any one else who emerges in the lead still face the risk of a veto by a Council permanent member.

All the candidates have received negative votes, with Gutteres receiving the least — three. At this stage of informal voting, it was not known if a permanent member voted against them as Council did not use the customary coloured ballots to distinguish theirs.

Vuk Jeremic, a former Serbian Foreign Minister, who was in the second place in the last poll dropped to the third spot, which he shared with Bokova.

Two women candidates who were thought to have an edge did not make headway in the latest poll. Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra, who is Ban’s former chief of staff, was the top vote-getter in the last poll but came in at the fifth spot.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who heads the UN Development Programme, stayed at the seventh rank.

Next month her country assumes the presidency of the Council and to avoid any conflict of interest its Permanent Representative Gerard van Bohemen will ask Russia to conduct the straw polls, according to New Zealand media reports. Russia is set to take over the Council presidency in October and this will enable its Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin to oversee the polls over two crucial months.

Of the 12 who were nominated for the Secretary General post, two have dropped out and more may leave the race after seeing their performance in the straw polls.

The election process began by breaking with the tradition of secrecy. Lykketoft had the candidates named publicly and put them through a series of meetings at which they presented their agenda and member countries and civil society organisation representatives questioned them.

But the Council has retreated behind the traditional veil of secrecy where it can conveniently make deals. Malaysia’s Permanent Representative Ramlan Bin Ibrahim, who presides over the Council this month, told reporters that he could not disclose the voting as the Council had decided to keep it a secret.

Lykketoft criticised the Council saying it “does not live up to the expectations of the membership and the new standard of openness and transparency.”

The voting results, however, leaked and the World Federation of United Nations Associations cross-checked the various leaks and released the consolidated results within minutes.

(Arul Louis can be reached at



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