Helen Clark to Announce Candidacy in Race for Next UN Secretary-General

April 4, 2016 – The much anticipated announcement of Helen Clark’s bid to become the next secretary-general of the United Nations will come on Monday with the former New Zealand prime minister and current head of the UN Development Program set to become the eight candidate for the post.

Clark will be the second Western candidate, after Portugal’s Antonio Guterres, and the fourth woman to enter the race. The New Zealand government have called a press conference for 9am NZ time while Wellington’s UN mission will hold a presser along with Clark at 5.30PM ET Monday in New York.

She is seen as the favored candidate of the P3 – Britain, France and the United States – but New Zealand had stalled on nominating her. Asked in late 2014 about a potential Clark candidacy, a source close to New Zealand’s United Nations mission told UN Tribune that Wellington was supportive of the view that it was Eastern Europe’s turn to nominate a candidate. Clark would be the fourth secretary-general to come from the Western Europe and Others UN regional group but the first from outside Europe.

No other regional group has had more than two secretaries-general while none of the previous eight have come from Eastern Europe. Although the UN Charter says nothing about regional rotation, it has been an established practice for selecting secretaries-general and was codified in a 1997 General Assembly resolution.

Clark was sworn in as administrator of the UN Development Program in 2009 and is currently serving her second term having been re-appointed in 2013.

The United States is believed to particularly favor Clark as a result of the cost-cutting measures she has undertaken at UNDP, including cutting staff. As New Zealand’s prime minister, she also sent troops to Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led international coalition. Clark did not send troops to Iraq. Although not a member of the alliance, as prime minister Clark signed an agreement to share classified information with NATO.

Her bid to become the ninth UN secretary-general, and first woman to hold the post, comes barely a week before candidates are scheduled for their first set of interviews with the UN General Assembly. The General Assembly, with the support of civil society, has been trying to wrestle away some control of the procedure for selecting the secretary-general from the Security Council but the permanent five members still retain veto over selecting the next UN chief.

Russia has said it favors an Eastern European woman for the post while the P3 have at various stages each said they support a woman taking the reins. It is understood that besides Clark, the P3 were keen to see Ban Ki-moon’s former chief of staff, and current Argentine Foreign Minister, Susana Malcorra, along with Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet, a former head of UN Women, enter the race too. Neither have announced bids and seem unlikely to do so in the next week.

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That Clark hails from the Global South is sure to stand in her favor but whether Russia will support her bid is quite another matter. Some UN member states may also argue that as Queen Elizabeth II is New Zealand’s official head of state, as a member of the Commonwealth, that this violates the understanding that a secretary-general cannot hail from one of the Security Council’s permanent five member states.

Ghana, where the seventh secretary-general, Kofi Annan, hails from, is also a member of the Commonwealth, but its 1960 constitution decrees that the president replaces the British monarch as head of state.

Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

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