Global Policy Forum

Security Council to Test Waters on New UN Chief


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
July 14, 2006

The resounding cry among most U.N. member states for "transparency and accountability" in the election of a new secretary-general has apparently gone unheeded. The Security Council -- which traditionally decides on a new U.N. chief -- will once again take the initiative in a restrictive election process scheduled to begin before the end of July. The first "straw poll" is expected to take place next week primarily to get a sense of what the 15 members of the Security Council feel about the four declared candidates for the job.

As part of an "innovation", the straw ballots will not distinguish between the five veto-wielding permanent members (P-5) and the 10 non-permanent members. The permanent five are the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, while the 10 current non-permanent members are: Argentina, Denmark, Greece, Japan, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Peru, Qatar and Slovak Republic. The ballot will indicate one of three options on the four candidates: "encouragement"; "discouragement"; and "no opinion expressed".

The four candidates -- all from Asia -- who will be vying for these ballots are: Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka; U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Public Information Shashi Tharoor of India; Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who was officially nominated by Seoul only Friday. But the proposed straw polls have already come under fire primarily because of lack of transparency and also the dominant role the Security Council will continue to play in the election of the new secretary-general, who will succeed incumbent Kofi Annan of Ghana when his second five-year term ends in December.

The longstanding tradition is for the Security Council to recommend a single candidate whose nomination is usually "rubber-stamped" by the 192-member General Assembly. But a proposal to force the Security Council to recommend at least three candidates -- and for the General Assembly to take the final decision -- failed to get off the ground. The P-5s were opposed to this because it would have transferred the ultimate decision-making power from the Security Council to the General Assembly. In the 15-member Council, the eventual decision-makers have always been the P-5, primarily because they can exercise their vetoes to block any candidatures.

James A. Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum, expressed disappointment over the current procedure for the election of the U.N. chief. "Some thought that this time, the process of choosing a U.N. secretary-general would be different," he told IPS. But apparently it is not so. "They thought that finally, with all the emphasis on U.N. reform -- and all the talk about accountability and transparency coming from major member states -- there would be progress towards new methods and less secrecy in the selection process, as well as more involvement of the general membership of the United Nations (rather than the choice being dominated by the five permanent members of the Security Council)," he added. The Council, Paul said, will continue to consider this most important decision in the same old-fashioned and secretive way as always.

He also said there were rumours that the General Assembly might have a new role to play, and that perhaps it would be offered the choice among two or even three candidates, instead of the single candidate nominated by the Security Council. But that proposal for multiple candidates is in limbo. He said that Canada had proposed some important new ideas. "But it is now clear that reform is not on the table and that P-5 hegemony and secrecy will continue unabated," he said. Paul quoted a former Italian Ambassador Paolo Fulci, president of the Security Council in December 1996, who said of the last contested election process: "It is like the selection of the Pope, except that the Security Council members do not have the beautiful ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to contemplate as they go about their election process."

Bill Pace, director of the Institute for Global Policy, a non-partisan non-governmental organisation at the United Nations, points out that it is still unclear how the new procedures and publicised earlier straw polling will affect the selection process. "The conventional wisdom of many that the smartest strategy was to wait in the wings and let the open candidates eliminate each other, may need to reconsider their strategy," Pace told IPS. He said that Tharoor, the candidate from India, is reported not to be happy with the early straw polling since he has only had a short time to contact governments (representing members of the Security Council) since his nomination.

"The actions taken by the Security Council represent improvements in what has been a deeply flawed selection process," he said. Moreover, the Security Council is implementing requests for more clarity on the nomination and election procedures and establishing timetables and more systematic reporting on the selection process. "These steps are, we believe, valuable and important. There is still need for clarifying qualifications, ensuring gender and regional diversity, and especially for allowing more thorough and transparent processes for evaluating the candidates," Pace added.

Paul of the Global Policy Forum told of "rumours that other candidates wait in the wings for the right moment to step forward, permanent members maneuvre, and deals [are being] done." "It is precisely the down-and-dirty political process we have seen in the past. No better. It seems fairly clear that the winner will be Asian. We can hope that women candidates will be considered (it is not impossible now)." However, the biggest question that hangs over the whole process is this: "Will the winner be the obvious servant of Washington or will the winner be able to maintain the dignity of office and the multilateral profile of his or her predecessors?" "It is sad that we cannot hope for more, but that is the reality of these times," Paul added.

Asked if France, a permanent member has any hidden agenda in initiating the election process so early in the game, Pace of the Institute for Global Policy said: "I think the French are complying with requests for more clarity and transparency in the selection procedures." He said there is speculation on a number of additional motivations for the French announcement. One is that at the time there were only two or three official candidates; now with South Korean nomination, there will be at least four candidates subject to the straw poll. Pace said that some speculate that the Security Council is surprised at the small number of official candidates and that the early straw polling will increase the nominations.

Others speculate that if the candidate that has the most regional endorsements, the Thai deputy prime minister who was 'endorsed' by the Association of South-East Asian Nations, does not demonstrate strong support in the straw poll after campaigning for more than a year, then other nations in the region may feel that they should suggest additional candidates. But many believe the early straw polling could be an effort to "weed out" candidates that do not have significant support, Pace argued.

More Information on UN Reform
More Information on Management and Secretary General Reform
More Information on the Reform of Security Council Working Methods
More Information on the Power of the Veto


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