Secretary-General Watch

Choosing Kofi Annan’s Successor

Oct. 19, 2006

On October 13, 2006, Ban Ki-moon of South Korea was chosen to be the eighth UN Secretary-General.  His five-year term will begin on January 1, 2007.   For background on the selection process, see below.

Secretary-General designate
Ban Ki-moon


The Secretary-General is appointed “by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council” (UN Charter, Article 97).   Pursuant to a 1946 General Assembly resolution, the Security Council recommends one candidate.  The General Assembly has always approved that candidate.

This means that choice effectively rests with the Security Council. To win the approval of the 15-member Council, a candidate must receive 9 votes, and must not be vetoed by any of the five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The non-permanent Security Council members this year are: Argentina, Congo, Denmark, Ghana, Greece, Japan, Peru, Qatar, Slovakia, and Tanzania.


A 1997 General Assembly resolution says that, in selecting the Secretary-General, “due regard” should be given to regional rotation and gender equality.

The UN’s Secretaries-General have come from the following regions:   3 from Western Europe, 2 from Africa, 1 from Latin America, 1 from Asia.  There has not yet been a Secretary-General from Eastern Europe (which is a recognized UN regional group).  There has not yet been a female UN Secretary-General.

<align=”right”>Indian UN Under Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor

The UN’s African group has held the Secretary-General post for the past 15 years (5 years of the Egyptian Boutros Boutros-Ghali and 10 years of the Ghanaian Kofi Annan).  The expectation was that this time, it was the Asian group’s turn.  The last (and only) Asian to hold the post was U Thant of Burma, whose term ended 35 years ago.   Why another Asian when the Eastern European group has not yet had a Secretary-General?  The reason is UN politics: The African and Asian groups agreed that it was Asia’s turn—and they, together, hold a majority of General Assembly seats (107 out of 192 members), and China holds a Security Council veto.

There is an unwritten rule that the Secretary-General should not come from one of the five countries that hold permanent Security Council seats.

The UN’s past Secretaries-General are:

 Name  Country  Term
 Trygve Lie  Norway  1946 – 1952
 Dag Hammarskjold  Sweden  1953 – 1961
 U Thant  Burma/Myanmar  1961 – 1971
 Kurt Waldheim  Austria  1972 – 1981
 Javier Perez de Cuellar  Peru  1982 – 1991
 Boutros Boutros-Ghali  Egypt  1992 – 1996
 Kofi Annan  Ghana  1997 – 2006

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai


There is no required timetable for the appointment, although a 1997 General Assembly resolution calls for it to be “as early as possible” and preferably no later than 1 month before the expiration of the current term.

There also is no deadline for nominating candidates, so new contenders could come into the process at any time.


By mid-September 2006, there were seven official candidates to succeed Annan, 6 from Asia and 1 from Eastern Europe.  “Official” means that a UN member state submitted the candidate’s name, in writing, to the Presidents of the General Assembly and Security Council.
The seven official candidates were:
 Name  Country  Current Position
 Ban Ki-moon  South Korea  Foreign Minister
 Jayantha Dhanapala  Sri Lanka  Senior Advisor to the President
 Surakiart Sathirathai  Thailand  Deputy Prime Minister
 Shashi Tharoor  India  UN Under Secretary-General for
Communications & Public Information
 Prince Zeid al-Hussein  Jordan  Permanent Representative to the UN
 Ashraf Ghani  Afghanistan  Chancellor of Kabul University
 Vaira Vike-Freiberga  Latvia  President

Other potential, but non-official, candidates being discussed in the press and in UN circles included:

 Name  Country  Current Position
 Kemal Dervis  Turkey  UN Development Program Administrator
 Goh Chok Tong  Singapore  Former Prime Minister
 Maleeha Lodhi  Pakistan  High Commissioner to the UK
 Niranjan Deva-Aditya  Sri Lanka/UK  European Parliament Member

Jordanian Prince Zeid al-Hussein

The Selection Process

The Security Council conducted its first “straw poll” to gauge support for the official candidates (then numbering four) on July 24.  Each Security Council member anonymously, and without identifying its permanent or rotating status, indicated encouragement, discouragement, or no opinion of the candidacy.  The results, listed from high to low scorer, were as follows:


 Name  Encourage  Discourage  No Opinion
 Ban Ki-moon  12  1  2
 Shashi Tharoor  10  2  3
 Surakiart Sathirathai  7  3  5
 Jayantha Dhanapala  5  6  4


Sri Lankan presidential advisor Jayantha Dhanapala

No candidate withdrew from the race after the July straw poll, but one additional candidate (Prince Zeid al-Hussein of Jordan) entered. The second straw poll took place on September 14.  The voting procedure was the same as the July straw poll.  The results, again from high to low scorer, were as follows:

 Name  Encourage  Discourage  No Opinion
 Ban Ki-moon  14  1  0
 Shashi Tharoor  10  3  2
 Surakiart Sathirathai  9  3  3
 Prince Zeid al-Hussein  6  4  5
 Jayantha Dhanapala  3  5  7

After the second straw poll, two additional candidates entered the race:  Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, and Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia.

A third straw was held on September 28, using the same procedure.  These results, from high to low, were:

 Name  Encourage  Discourage  No Opinion
 Ban Ki-Moon  13  1  1
 Shashi Tharoor  8  3  4
 Vaira Vike-Freiberga  7  6  2
 Surakiart Sathirathai  5  7  3
 Prince Zeid al-Hussein  3  6  6
 Ashraf Ghani  3  6  6
 Jayantha Dhanapala  3  7  5

Latvian President
Vaira Vike-Freiberga

After the third straw poll, Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka withdrew his candidacy.

A fourth and final straw poll was held on October 2.  This poll distinguished, through the use of different colored ballot papers, between non-permanent and permanent (i.e. veto-wielding) Security Council members.  Ban Ki-moon placed first, again, and as the only candidate with no discourage vote from a permanent member, locked up the nomination:

 Name  Encourage  Discourage  No Opinion
 Ban Ki-moon  14  0  1
 Shashi Tharoor  10  3 (1 P)  2
 Vaira Vike-Freiberga  5  6 (2 P)  4
 Surakiart Sathirathai  4  7 (2 P)  4
 Ashraf Ghani  4  11 (3 P)  0
 Prince Zeid al-Hussein  2  8 (1 P)  5

As of October 5, all five of the other candidates had withdrawn from the race.   Ban was recommended by the Security Council on October 9 and appointed by the General Assembly on October 13.  He will take office on January 1, 2007.


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