With the second five-year term of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon coming to an end on December 31st, 2016, the Security Council of the United Nations was tasked with nominating a candidate to the General Assembly, preferably unanimously. Following increasing calls from organizations around the world to reform the selection process, the United Nations for the first time hosted televised interviews, and the position was contested by 13 candidates, of which a record seven of which were women.
The Role of the Secretary-General
Outlined in the UN Charter, the Secretary-General is responsible for representing the United Nations, and fulfilling various administrative tasks as required by the General Assembly and the other organs of the United Nations. The Secretary-General attends sessions of the General Assembly, meets with various foreign leaders and dignitaries, and actively acts to further the interests and goals of the United Nations, to preserve peace, and to ensure freedom for everyone. Secretary-Generals have also, in their tenures, focused on a specific task or issue close to them.
The Selection Process
The Secretary-General is nominated to the General Assembly by the Security Council, traditionally unanimously, in order to provide them with the necessary support to fulfill their duties.
As the Security Council is composed of fifteen members, ten of which are temporary, and five are permanent, the politics surrounding the selection process change with each selection process. In order to be successful, a candidate must appease the members’ individual demands, which makes the process difficult, especially in the case when a member state is on poor terms with that of the candidate. For example, in the 2006 selection process, Ban Ki-Moon, from South Korea, faced opposition from the Japanese delegation, at that time a temporary member. Because they did not hold a veto, however, when the final vote was held, and Ban seemed to be the presumptive nominee, the Japanese decided to abstain, leaving Ban with 14 of the 15 possible votes and clearing the way for him to win.
The five permanent members pose a tougher challenge to overcome. As each hold a veto, no candidate can be selected without each permanent member’s approval.
Once the candidate is announced, the vote goes to the General Assembly, where the candidate is typically elected, becoming the Secretary-General Elect.
The Push for Reform
There became increasing concern with the lack of transparency and accountability with the appointment process, leading to several changes. Organizations such as 1 for 7 billion pushed for reforms, and detailed plans from each of the candidates on policy and stances. The UN for the first time held informal dialogue sessions with each candidate, a form of interview where the candidates were questioned on live TV by members of the General Assembly, as well as a town hall event, where the candidates were asked questions by people around the world. Upon his selection as Secretary-General, Guterres praised the overhauled selection process, saying it was “deeply enriched by the engagement of civil society, and the wider global public.”
By the nomination deadline, thirteen candidates declared themselves contenders, but only ten remained in the race until the end.
Dr. Irina Bokova
Former Bulgarian Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. Irina Bokova was the incumbent, two-term serving Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at the time of her nomination. In her vision statement, Bokova declared she would promote peace and humanity through the promotion of education.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1999 to 2008, Helen Clark served as Administrator of the United Nations Development Program at the time of her nomination. In her vision statement, Clark promises to accelerate the work on gender equality, to create more opportunities for youth, and increasing the transparency and effectiveness of the United Nations.
A high-ranking official within the European Union, and the incumbent European Commissioner for the Budget and Human Resources at the time of her nomination, Kristalina Georgieva was the last candidate to be nominated, a little less than a week from the final decision. She is also the second candidate to be nominated from Bulgaria. In her vision statement, Georgieva makes the case for the increased need for the UN’s involvement in peacekeeping and security, as well as the need to step up on issues ranging from human rights to climate change.
Moldovan Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, and the Acting Prime Minister of Moldova in 2015, Natalia Gherman outlined in her vision statement the goals of her candidacy. These included the need to promote peace and security around the world, her plans for sustainable development, and to make the United Nations a more effective and accountable agency in its operations. Gherman also campaigned for better human rights advocacy from the UN, as well as increased humanitarian response efforts.
Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Refugees from 2005 to 2015, Guterres was the only candidate to be endorsed by other countries, receiving support from France, Cape Verde, Angola, and East Timor. In his vision statement, he stated the need for the unity of the UN in dealing with the rising threats of terrorism and climate change, and the value of preventing conflict before it breaks out rather than afterwards. Guterres was also vocal in calling for the reform and the reinvention of the UN in the way it works and operates itself.
The former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, and former President of the United Nations General Assembly, Jeremić outlined in his vision statement what he believed the future of the UN should be. He believed in the need for an increased UN presence in African peacekeeping, that the UN should continue its push on climate change, and that the UN’s capability to counter terrorism be increased.
A former member of the Serbian government, and also a former President of the General Assembly, Kerim campaigned for the reform of the UN, gender equality, and for a stronger response to the migration crisis in the Middle East and Europe. He outlined in his vision statement his stances on climate change and human rights issues, calling for the expansion of the UN’s duties once it had been streamlined as an organization in its management and finances.
A former member of the Slovakian cabinet, Lajčák declared his candidacy in May of 2016. He said, in his vision statement, that he would ensure all people around the world are fed, and that one of the main goals of his tenure would be to work for equality, in wealth, education, and opportunities.
A previous official at the UN, and the incumbent Minister of Foreign Affairs of Argentina at the time of her nomination, Susana Malcorra called for the increased transparency of the UN in its management of employees and functions, as well as the need for the UN to return to its core functions, to serve the people of the world who do not have a voice to speak themselves.
Serving as the Slovenian president from 2007-2012, Danilo Türk focused his campaign on sustainable development, improved humanitarian work, increased peace and security, and the reform of the United Nations administration.
The Straw Polls
The Security Council held 6 straw polls from August to October, in which they reviewed each candidate’s candidate, giving them either a “encourage,” “neutral,” or “discourage” vote. In later polls, the veto-wielding members’ votes were marked in order to gain a sense of which candidates were being discouraged by them.
After gaining an initial lead, Guterres cemented his victory once the colour-coded straw polls were introduced, and on the sixth and last straw poll, held on October 5th, was the only candidate to emerge with no “discourage” vote from a permanent member. He was acclaimed the nominee for the position the next day at 10:00 EST, and on October 13th formally nominated by the General Assembly, becoming the 9th Secretary-General Designate of the United Nations, to succeed Ban Ki-Moon on January 1st, 2017, with his term ending on December 31st, 2021.