Geneva, September 28, 2006 — Today in New York, the UN Security Council will hold a “straw poll” of the seven candidates to be the next UN Secretary-General.
UN Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization, has been closely following the selection process. “The process this year has been the most open and transparent ever,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer. “It’s a welcome change from the old, closed-door approach. Unlike in the past, the candidates are known, they have been openly campaigning, and the results of the two previous straw polls were made public almost immediately.”
UN Watch offers the following comment and analysis on the current candidates:
- Ban Ki-Moon, of South Korea : A career diplomat who is now the South Korean Foreign Minister, Ban is the current front-runner. He garnered the most “encourage” votes in the two previous Security Council straw polls—14 in the most recent one—but if the one “discourage” vote he received in the last poll was from a veto-wielding permanent member, that would derail his candidacy.
- Shashi Tharoor, of India : Tharoor is a career UN official, currently Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Information. He came in second in the two previous straw polls. Very close to Kofi Annan, he may be too much of a UN insider for those Security Council members, like the U.S., who believe the UN needs reform. Also, previous Secretaries-General have always come from so-called “middle” powers (Norway, Sweden, Burma, Austria, Peru, Egypt, Ghana). It is unclear whether the Permanent Five powers would accept a candidate from India—particularly its competitor, China.
- Surakiart Sathirathai, of Thailand : A longtime Thai diplomat and civil servant, Surakiart was Deputy Prime Minister in the government of Thaksin Shinawatra until it was overthrown in last week’s bloodless military coup. Although the military junta continues to support his candidacy, the coup hurts his chances. Surakiart was the first candidate to declare and has been campaigning since early 2005. He quickly garnered the endorsement of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), but then seemed to lose momentum, and scored third in the two previous straw polls.
- Prince Zeid al-Hussein, of Jordan : Jordanian diplomat Zeid is currently his country’s ambassador to the UN in New York. He also has served as a UN peacekeeping official. If chosen, he would be the first Arab and Muslim Secretary-General. His entry into the race, just before the last straw poll, was greeted with much media fanfare, but he only placed fourth, out of five candidates, in the poll.
- Jayantha Dhanapala, of Sri Lanka : A former Sri Lankan diplomat and UN official, Dhanapala is the Senior Advisor to the president of Sri Lanka, in charge of the peace process there. As a result, the fact that the conflict in Sri Lanka is not only still ongoing, but seems to be worsening, has hurt his candidacy. He also is viewed by some as too old for the job: at 67, he is already two years past the UN’s official retirement age. He placed last in the two previous straw polls.
- Ashraf Ghani, of Afghanistan : Now the Chancellor of Kabul University, Ghani worked for many years as an academic and for the World Bank. He also was Finance Minister in the government of President Karzai. He is viewed as a strong administrator, but has a reputation for being impatient. He joined the race after the previous straw poll, so his level of support is as yet unknown.
- Vaira Vike-Freiberga, of Latvia : Vike-Freiberga is the current President of Latvia and a former professor of psychology in Canada. If selected, she would be the first woman Secretary-General, as well as the first from Eastern Europe. But Russia is not likely to support someone from an Eastern European, former Soviet state, and China has insisted that this time, under the UN’s informal practice of regional rotation, it is Asia’s turn for the Secretary-General seat. (The other six candidates are all from the UN’s Asian regional group.) Another potential strike against her is that she is a year older than Dhanapala. She joined the race after the last straw poll, so her support is not yet clear.
“Today’s poll will probably not decide the race,” said Neuer. “Like the previous two, it will not distinguish between permanent and non-permanent Security Council members—so unless one candidate receives a clean sweep of 15 encourage votes, the selection process will continue. But it may well lead the lower-scoring candidates to withdraw, and there are rumors that several new candidates are waiting in the wings to enter.”
The Security Council is expected to hold another straw poll on Monday, October 2. This poll will use a different colored ballot paper for the permanent, veto-wielding members, and therefore is more likely to be decisive.
“Above all,” said Neuer, “the UN should look for a person with character and integrity. There is no particular career experience that can prepare someone for the daunting task of Secretary-General, and so ultimately the organization needs someone with the right attributes, who can grow into the job, but who starts with a strong sense of direction.”