UN Embarks on a New Process to Choose Secretary-General

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    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s successor will not be elected by a secret ballot by the 193 member states of the United Nations.

    Rather the General Assembly and the Security Council presidents have agreed on a selection process that might mark a watershed.

    According to the UN Charter, the Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly following the recommendation of the Security Council. The format agreed by the General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft and the President of the Security Council Samantha Power does not axe the powers exercised particularly by the Council.

    The method responds to mounting public and official pressure from developing country governments to make the selection process of Ban Ki-moon’s successor as transparent and inclusive as possible. Ban’s ten-year term ends on December 31, 2016.

    A joint letter by presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council that was sent out to all UN member states on December 15 acknowledges the importance of transparency and inclusivity in the selection process. It also encourages Member States “to consider presenting women, as well as men, as candidates for the position of Secretary-General”. The letter notes “the regional diversity in the selection of previous Secretaries-General.”

    Possible Candidates

    Stating that some candidates have already emerged, the letter invites member states presenting candidates to do so in a letter to the President of the General Assembly and the President of the Security Council. The two will jointly circulate to all member states, “on an ongoing basis, the names of individuals that have been submitted for consideration.”

    In a new development, the President of the General Assembly and the President of the Security Council “will offer candidates opportunities for informal dialogues or meetings with the members of their respective bodies… these can take place before the Council begins its selection by the end of July 2016 and may continue throughout the process of selection,” according to the letter.

    Transparency in Process

    “The process is started and the wish is that the membership, for the first time in UN history, is included totally in the discussion of the next Secretary-General,” Lykketoft told reporters at the UN headquarters on December 15, adding that in his view “this is a watershed in the way that we are doing things.”

    Referring to China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, Lykketoft continued:

    [quote_center]“Until [today], the selection process of the Secretary-General has been very secretive and involving mostly – or only – the permanent five members of the Security Council.” [/quote_center]

    Of course, he added, the permanent Security Council members “still have a very strong position in selecting proposals for the General Assembly, but I think if, out of this new process we are now embarking on, comes an imminent candidate supported by a majority of the membership, it will actually give the general membership an increased, de facto power in selecting the Secretary-General.”

    Open for Discussion

    Lykketoft explained that the presentation of candidates would also give member states the opportunity to ask questions about their position on UN priorities, such as the Sustainable Development Agenda, peace and security, and other issues.

    “But I would also say it would give the opportunity of candidates to answer questions about how should the UN system…possibly be made better to deal with a more holistic view of the world challenges expressed in the Sustainable Development Goals,” he noted, expressing the hope that such consultations would illuminate prospective candidates’ political and organizational priorities.

    To a question on the format of such consultations with prospective candidates, Lykketoft said:

    [quote_center]“We are foreseeing open meetings with the membership of the United Nations, where you gentlemen and ladies of the press can follow the presentations and questions and answers [to and from] the candidates…that is my plan.” [/quote_center]


    The next Secretary-General will assume the role in January 2017 and will serve a five-year term, which can be renewed by member states for an additional five years.

    According to observers, two factors will play an important role in the election of Ban’s successor. Firstly, none of his seven predecessors as Secretary-General were female. Secondly, none of them came from Eastern Europe.

    A movement for selecting a female as the next UN chief has been gathering momentum over the years. A staunch supporter of a woman Secretary-General is Bangladesh diplomat Anwarul K. Chowdhury. His initiative in March 2000 as the President of the Security Council led to the adoption of the groundbreaking UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on the role of women in peace and security.

    British newspaper, The Guardian, quoted Jean Krasno, a Yale professor and UN expert, saying:

    [quote_center]“We can’t use the excuse that there aren’t enough qualified women to choose from.”[/quote_center]

    The Woman Secretary-General campaign she chairs produced a list of outstanding women from all regions, including those from Eastern Europe – with Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO, and Kristalina Ivanova Georgieva, economist and EU commissioner at the top of the list.

    Also on the list are: IMF head Christine Lagarde; the President of Chile and former head of UN Women; current head of the UNDP and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark; the President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff; current High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the European Union’s foreign minister, Federica Mogherini; and the German chancellor Angela Merkel.

    [quote_box_center]Ramesh Jaura works for IDN-InDepthNews Analysis. His work has been republished from IDN-InDepthNews under a Creative Commons (by-nc-nd 3.0) license. [/quote_box_center]

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