Portuguese ex-PM keeps lead in race for UN chief; women lag

United Nations, Aug 6 (IANS) Portugal’s former Prime Minister Antonio Guterres maintained his lead in the second round of informal voting by the Security Council Friday for Secretary General, confounding expectations that a woman would ascend to the world’s top diplomatic job.

But this time he also received two negative votes and could be out of the running if one of them was from a permanent member.

The 14 men representing their countries on the 15-member council gave the second spot to another man, Vuk Jeremic, the former Serbian foreign minister. The only woman on the Council is US Permanent Representative Samantha Power.

Moving up to the third spot in the informal balloting called the straw pool was Susana Malcorra, the Argentine foreign minister and former chief of staff of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, who heads UNESCO, slipped to the fifth place from the third last time.

Although the Council backtracked on expectations of transparency by refusing to disclose the voting in the veil of secrecy was ripped by leaks within minutes of the straw poll ending. The World Federation of United Nations Associations

The president of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft declared, “The lack of transparency is undignified for the UN and for the candidates.”

Malaysia’s Permanent Representative Ramlan Bin Ibrahim, who presides over the Council this month announced that 11 candidate took part in the straw poll abuta Arefused to announce the results, adding that Lykketoft would only be told the ballot had taken place.

Earlier in the week he reiterated the secrecy policy saying it was to take into account the “sensitivities of the candidates” and their “comfort level.”

The election process set a precedent for openess awhen it began with all the candidates were announced publicly and made to face questions from the UN members as well as from civil society groups. But with polls, the Council reverted to its tradition of secrecy raising the ire of Lykketoft and others.

The straw polls follow a complicated system of three types of votes, “Encourage,” Discouragea and “No Opinion.” The system of coloured ballots to distinguish the veto-powered votes of the permanent members was not used.

Gutteres, who has also been the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, received 11 positive and two negative votes, while in the last round he did not get any “discouragea ballots. Malcorra got eight positive and six negatives, while Bokova had seven positive and negative votes.

The changes in the standings from the July straw poll reflect the subterranean lobbying and negotiations that are heating up as the election process gets more serious.a

Several more rounds of straw polls will be held before a candidate acceptable to a Council majority and to all the permanent members finally emerges. These polls are designed to winnow the field and one candidate, Vesa Pusic, the Deputy Speaker of Croatia’s parliament, dropped out on Thursday.

Her statement on why she quit the race gave an inkling of how the election process is shaping up. “After the first straw poll at the UN Security Council it became clear that the election of a new Secretary General will go into the direction of a candidate from the organisation itself — a person who works or has worked at the United Nations,” she said.

By tradition the office of the Secretary General rotates geographically and this time it is the turn of a European. None of the three from Europe so far has been from the East, and countries from that region have staked a claim.

There has also been a major push to elect a woman for the first time. Last year Power, when she presided over the Council, and Lykketoft specifically called for women to be nominated for the job.

Bokova, who fits the bill as a woman from East Europe, is likely to face opposition from the US and Malcorra, who is from outside that region, from Russia.

There is speculation that one of the negative votes for Gutteres was from Moscow as Portugal is a NATO member. Asked on Monday if he would cast a “Discourage” vote for him, Russia’s Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin told reporters cryptically, “Why should I? He’s such a good man.”

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in)

–IANS

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