Meanwhile at the UN, another upcoming election is also hotly contested

Special to

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — What’s beginning to look like this year’s Republican presidential primaries in the USA has morphed into a political scramble for the UN Secretary General’s seat.

With a dozen prospective candidates, the race for the new Secretary General has now overshadowed much of the work at the multinational organization. As incumbent South Korean Ban Ki-Moon enters the final six months of his second five year term, the political crescendo has heightened with unending lobbying and jockeying for the coveted post.

Geographical representation and consensus has deemed that this time around it’s the “turn” of an Eastern European woman to fill the post. Ban Ki-Moon represented East Asia’s turn while Kofi Annan before him represented Africa’s.

Who will be he next UN secretary general?
Who will be he next UN secretary general?

While national pride and diplomatic status are enshrined in the position of being the global Chief Executive of the 193 member multinational organization, the selection rather than election, usually goes to a consensus candidate from a smaller and often neutral country.

South Korea’s Ban, backed by the U.S., was a notable exception coming from an East Asian powerhouse state. His recent predecessors were from Ghana, Egypt and Peru.

The Secretary General’s race is usually determined behind closed doors, (smoke filled rooms are long gone with the UN smoking ban), with glimmers of information and light being tightly controlled. But the traditionally Byzantine selection process has changed.

This time around, transparency has become the mantra whereby all kinds of round tables, speeches and even a debate in the cavernous UN General Assembly Hall are trying to bring a public focus to an arcane process. Yet no matter what talents and virtues may be available among the candidates, the stark political reality remains the Delphic diplomatic judgement of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council, Britain, China, France, Russia and the USA who will quietly but forcibly determine the outcome.

Only then, later in the process, does the full General Assembly get the chance vote on the selection.

U.S./UN Amb. Samantha Power said the candidate must have “leadership and management skills.”

Among the dozen declared candidates, only a few are actually from Eastern Europe and are women. A strong contender, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, currently runs UNESCO, the UN cultural and scientific organization based in Paris.

Though hardly a dynamic speaker, Bokova to her credit has been openly supportive of protecting historic sites in the Middle East from jihadi terrorist looting and destruction. Her negatives include close links to Bulgaria’s former communist regime back in the bad old days. She is said to be a Russian favorite.

Moldova and Croatia have nominated former foreign ministers, both women for the post. Macedonia and Montenegro fielded former Ministers too. Serbia, not to be outdone, nominated Vuk Jeremic, a former ultra-nationalist foreign minister who is said to be a Moscow minion.

Yet as a ranking East European diplomat told this writer, the selection of Secretary General reflects a profoundly different setting than even a decade ago given a more unstable world.

Though the U.S. and China pressed for Ban Ki-Moon and Russia acquiesced, now the international situation remains dangerously more polarized.

Danilo Turk, Slovenia’s President and a former UN official offers a tried and true candidate with serious potential. Turk hails from a small successful democracy. Slovakia’s Miroslav Lajcak, the Foreign Minister, is also in the running. Both are from European Union and NATO countries.

As if this process does not begin to evoke the American primaries, recall that the objective was a female candidate from Eastern Europe. But geography has blurred; Among the frontrunners are Former Prime Minister Helen Clark from New Zealand, Susan Malcorra Argentina’s Foreign Minister, Antonio Guterres former Portuguese Prime Minister, and Costa Rica’s Christina Figueres.

Some insiders assert that in an impasse German Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself from eastern Germany, could be chosen.

When asked whether the new Secretary General should be from Eastern Europe or a woman, British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft opined, “No, the UK believes that we need to select the strongest person for the job. The qualities of leadership are the most important.”

In presentations evoking Congressional hearings, Antonio Guterres, the affable Portuguese who recently ran the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), a herculean task in this chaotic world, offered an brilliant analytical presentation on the monumental task facing the Secretary General.

Slovakia’s Lajcak, significantly stressed the dire need for “preventive diplomacy.” The Slovak Foreign Minister implored that, a “priority would be to prevent conflict and war.” Preventive diplomacy, often overlooked in a UN beset by the crisis du jour, remains vital.

The fifteen member Security Council will hold informal and non-binding straw polls to vet the names till the final voting in the Fall. In the first poll, both Guterres and Turk surged in support.

A dozen contenders, six of them women, are competing for the world’s top global job; but have they considered what the winner will be inheriting?

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]