Global Policy Forum

Surakiart, Korean to Meet Annan


By J.T. Nguyen

Deutsche Press Agentur
May 12, 2006

As UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan embarks on a trip to Asia, thoughts of who will succeed him when he steps down in December are not far from mind - especially since geographical etiquette would give Asia the next appointment. Over the coming days, it is likely Annan will meet with at least two of the three Asian candidates - Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, who has the backing of the regional Asean, and South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon. Annan arrives Sunday in Seoul.

But that system of geographical entitlement, which Annan, a Ghanaian, has endorsed, is being challenged by the United States, which in its drive to build efficiency at the UN could force the Asian candidates to compete with non-Asians who possess top administrative and political skills to manage the troubled organization.

The US has urged qualified people, including women, to get in the race to succeed Annan at the helm of the 191-nation body. And Washington's envoy to the UN, John Bolton, has said that if the geographic system were to be applied, it should be Eastern Europe's turn, not Asia's. So far, the seven UN secretaries-general since 1945 have all been men, prompting calls for a woman leader as more women have reached the top government echelons in Liberia, Latvia, Chile and the Philippines.

Latvia President Vaira Vike-Freberga has been touted as a possible candidate. Forbes magazine named her among the 100 most powerful women in the world. Polish politicians have also been mentioned. But as with the Latvian president, UN diplomats said Russia would not feel comfortable looking up to one of its former vassals for political guidance.

In addition to stopping in South Korea, Annan is set to visit Japan, Thailand, and China and make the first ever visit by a UN secretary-general to Vietnam over the coming days. In Asia, Annan will tread a minefield of diplomatic politicking with the three candidates trying to jockey for the limelight and be seen with the Ghanaian who has been UN leader for 10 years. Sri Lanka's Ambasssador Jayantha Dhanapala, the third candidate, will miss an opportunity to meet with him, since Annan's itinerary does not take him there. But South Korea's Ban and Thailand's Surakiart will have a rare opportunity to gain Annan's attention.

Annan has preferred not to get involved in the selection process, and on the eve of his journey, he insisted he planned to avoid discussing the issue. But it will be difficult for him to completely skirt the theme. After all, he has thrown support for Asia by virtue of geographic rotation among the world's regions for UN posts.

The last Asian to occupy the post was U Thant of Burma (now Myanmar) from 1961 to 1971, and Asia is demanding its turn since Latin America and Africa occupied the post since that time. A Swede, Norwegian and Austrian held the post in the early decades of UN history.

The US and the other four UN Security Council permanent members - Russia, China, France and Britain - are expected to use their clout and prerogatives to guide and influence the process of nominating Annan's successor. They will recommend their candidate to the 15-nation council, which then will formally nominate the person for an up-or-down vote by the 191-nation UN General Assembly, where developing countries hold the majority of votes.

The US called for the most efficient administrator or manager to come forth for the job because it says such leadership is needed to restore credibility to the world organization, which has been battered by corruption charges and scandals by peacekeepers who raped and sexually exploited refugees under their charge.

Reform after its first 60 years is at the top of the United Nations agenda this year. The US and Japan are the largest UN contributors, providing 22 per cent and 20 per cent respectively of the UN budget.

The race to succeed Annan began early this time around. Surakiart entered the race last year, while counterparts from South Korea and Sri Lanka entered early this year. All three have visited UN headquarters in New York. The UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly have begun discussing orderly procedures for the election - something they have fallen short on during the past 60 years.

According to diplomats involved in the discussions, a three-stage scenario for the election process has been proposed. Until the procedures are formally accepted by the two bodies, the stages remain just a proposal. The process would begin with the Security Council president's circulating a list of candidates that could be updated, followed by informal discussions in search of a consensus. If there is a large field of candidates, Security Council members may hold secret ballots to "encourage" or "discourage" a candidate.

Under the proposed procedure, the Security Council would then use a secret ballot for the final nomination, which would then go to the General Assembly. But the General Assembly is also working to increase its role in the selection process, and it's not clear if it would approve by simple majority, two-thirds vote or acclamation.

More Information on UN Reform
More Information on Management and Secretary General Reform


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.