Antonio Guterres Recommended as Next UN Secretary-General

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Oct. 6, 2016 – The Security Council on Thursday made a recommendation to the General Assembly to appoint Antonio Manuel de Oliveira Guterres as the next and ninth UN secretary-general.

The move came after Wednesday’s sixth straw ballot which saw Guterres, 67, emerge as the clear winner with no opposition among the 15 Council members. He will take office on January 1 after a formal vote by the General Assembly.

Guterres will be the first former prime minister to take the helm at the United Nations having headed Portugal’s government from 1995-2002 as leader of the Socialist party. From 2005-2015 he was head of the UN refugee agency, winning wide praise for his stewardship during the agency’s biggest refugee crisis.

Guterres will also be the first UN secretary-general from a NATO-member country. Portugal was a founding member of the alliance.

Although he led all straw ballots, his victory will be regarded by many as a surprise given the widely held view that it was time for a woman to lead the organization after eight successive male secretaries-general. It was also expected that the next UN chief should hail from Eastern Europe, the only region never to have held the post.

Guterres qualified as an electrical engineer in 1971 but soon became involved in politics and was involved in Catholic youth movements. A committed Catholic to this day, he recently cited the Biblical “parable of the talents” [Matthew:25] as the reason why he entered the race for the UN’s top job. He cited the same parable in a 2005 interview with the Migration Policy Institute.

During interviews with the General Assembly in April, Guterres mooted introducing a Global Tax to fund humanitarian efforts, telling delegates that the UN and international financial organizations need to find ways for humanitarian efforts to be “funded by global funding sources,” such as fees on plane tickets and financial transactions.

In his lengthy vision statement submitted to the UN General Assembly back in April, Guterres called for a surge in diplomacy as a preventive tool, greater accountability in the UN system, and gender parity in senior posts.

While there is little doubt that he has the experience and leadership qualities needed to guide the UN as it confronts multiple crises, some views he held as prime minister will cause unease at Turtle Bay and beyond.

In a 1995 interview with Portuguese television, he said that “homosexuality is not an aspect I particularly like.” He was not questioned about his current views on sexual orientation during the General Assembly hearings and his views may have evolved in the twenty years since. Ban Ki-moon has been widely hailed for consistently speaking out against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Guterres too was opposed to legalizing abortion during his term as prime minister, campaigning actively in a referendum that successfully overturned a parliamentary vote that legalized the procedure. He was also reportedly in favor of a law that sent women who had an abortion to prison.

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon on Thursday, Guterres expressed his ‘gratitude and humility.’

“To describe what I’m feeling at this moment, I just need two words: humility and gratitude,” he said. “Gratitude firstly towards the members of the Security Council for the confidence in me, but also gratitude towards the General Assembly of the United Nations and all its member states for having decided in an exemplary process of transparency and openness.”

- Denis Fitzgeald
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

Race for Next SG Enters Crucial Week

Kristalina Georgieva is the latest entrant into the race for next secretary-general

Kristalina Georgieva is the latest entrant into the race for next secretary-general

Oct. 3, 2016 – Wednesday’s Security Council straw poll for selecting the next secretary-general will be the first to use color-coded ballots, showing whether a candidate has received a discourage vote from a veto-wielding member.

All of the candidates have at least two discourage votes in the previous ballots with front-runner Antonio Guterres receiving two in the Sept. 29 poll – Russia is suspected to be behind one of the discourage votes though Moscow has predictably been coy on its preference, only stating in the past that an Eastern European woman should get the nod, and Guterres satisfies nether of these criteria.

Kristalina Georgieva is the latest entrant into the race and appeared before the General Assembly Monday to take questions. While she satisfies both of Russia’s criteria, that she is an official of the European Commission that has imposed sanctions on Russia makes it unlikely she will get Moscow’s support. That is unless a secret deal is struck which would involve the lifting of EU sanctions on Russia and guaranteeing it a top post in the UN Secretariat, with Foreign Policy reporting Sunday that Moscow wants to head up the dept. of political affairs, currently a U.S.-held post.

The Council remains deeply divided with regards to Syria and last week’s interventions by the U.S. and the UK when they accused Russia of war crimes and barbarism over its actions in Aleppo will have repercussions, and this could impact the selection of the next secretary-general. Russia holds the rotating presidency for October and it appears an increasing likelihood that the Council will not settle on a candidate this month, and that may well mean Ban Ki-moon extending his term until into 2017. There is noting in the UN Charter preventing this happening.

The failure of the Security Council to act on Syria has damaged not just the Council but the United Nations as a whole and the Syrian people have paid dearly for this. Russia and the U.S., along with Germany and the other permanent members of the Security Council, have worked together over the past decade in negotiating a deal with Iran to halt Tehran’s quest for an atomic weapon. That deal was finalized in June last year but it appears that, among other calculations, the Obama administration was not willing to risk the deal falling through by taking action on Syria.

At this stage there’s still a slim chance that the Council’s permanent members will settle on a candidate to replace Ban but Wednesday’s straw poll is really the determiner and the ball is in Moscow’s court.

- Denis FItzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Veto-Wielding China Says Supports Malcorra for Next SG

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Sept. 6, 2016 – Susana Malcorra’s campaign to become the next UN secretary-general received a boost over the weekend with Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly endorsing the Argentine foreign minister’s bid in a meeting with his Buenos Aires counterpart Mauricio Macri.

Jinping told Macri that Beijing would “support” her candidacy when the pair met on the sidelines of the G20 summit, according to a report in the Argentine daily La Nacion.

Malcorra came in fifth in the recent Security Council straw poll with seven encourage, seven discourage and 1 no opinion.

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Malcorra’s bid is still seen as having an outside chance given the high number of discourage votes but with Russia said to be refusing to budge in its opposition to front-runner Antonio Guterres, China may be trying to galvanize support for Ban Ki-moon’s former chief-of-staff.

That she hails from the Global South, one of only two candidates – the other fellow Latin American Christina Figueres – will put her in good stead with China, and indeed with the majority of UN member states.

Malcorra is also seen as the favorite of the United States, who are said to view her as a steady pair of hands. Opposition comes from the UK, who went to war with Argentina in 1982 over the disputed Falkland islands.

Guterres, the former high commissioner for refugees, has seen his number of discourage votes rise to three since the first straw poll on July 21. While widely admired inside the UN for his capable leadership of UNHCR during the biggest refugee crisis in the agency’s history, it looks increasingly likely that Russia will veto the former Portuguese prime minister’s bid.

During his reign as PM, he was a strong advocate of NATO expansion and EU expansion. There has never been a secretary-general from a NATO country with former secretaries-general from Europe, Dag Hammarskjold and Kurt Waldheim, hailing from neutral Sweden and Austria respectively.

The UN’s first secretary-general Norway’s Trygve Lie was appointed prior to the founding of NATO. Lie, in fact, saw both NATO and the Soviet Union’s network of alliances as a threat to the United Nations.

Another straw poll is set for Sept. 9 and none of the ten remaining candidates look like vacating the race, with each calculating that Russia’s apparent unwillingness to support Guterres will see a change of dynamic in the race.

Whether that means mobilizing behind a candidate that has the support of both the US and China, or the late entry of a compromise candidate, is anyone’s guess, but Malcorra’s odds have shortened.

If elected, Malcorra would be the first woman to hold the post of UN secretary-general and the second Latin-American.

Prior to her appointment as chef-de-cabinet to Ban, Malcorra was under-secretary for field operations for UN peacekeeping. She was appointed Argentina’s foreign minister in Nov. 2015.

- Denis Fitzgeald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Catching Up With Others, U.S. and UN Look Set to Elect Female Leaders

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June 14, 2016 – Later this year, it looks likely that both the United Nations and the United States will respectively elect female leaders. What is remarkable in both these instances is not that women will head both the world body and the world’s oldest democracy but that it will have taken both so long to elect a female leader.

Since its inception in 1945 eight men have held the post of secretary-general, despite UN agencies being at the forefront of advocating for gender equality. But five of the nine current candidates for the post are women and it appears that, more out of a sense of embarrassment than real commitment to gender equality, that the P5 members of the Security Council will nominate one of the five women for the post.

In the case of the United States, all 44 presidents have been men while women have never represented more than 20 percent of elected members of congress, far less for women of color. Only 35 women have ever served in the US Senate.

If elected, Hillary Clinton will be one of some twenty women who are currently either president or prime minster of a UN member state. In total, almost 70 women have served as president or prime minister. Presidents are typically elected directly while prime ministers take office as head of a party that has won the most seats in an election.

Below is a list of current female presidents or prime minsters of UN member states followed by lists of past female presidents and prime ministers, followed by the year first elected. A number in brackets indicates the number of women to hold the post of president or prime minister for a particular country.

Current Female Leaders:

Germany – Chancellor Angela Merkel 
Liberia – President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson 
Bangladesh – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
Lithuania – President Dalia Grybauskaite
South Korea – President Park Geun-hye
Brazil – President Dilma Rouseff
Slovenia – Prime Minister Alenka Brautsek
Norway – Prime Minister Erna Solberg
Chile – President Michelle Bachelet
Malta – President Marie-Louise Coleiro
Poland – Prime Minister Beata Szydło
Croatia – President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
Namibia – Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila
Mauritius - President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim
Nepal – President Bidhya Devi Bhandari
Marshall Islands – President
 Hilda Heine

Past Female Presidents:

Argentina 1974 (2)
Iceland 1980
Malta 1982
Philippines 1986 (2)
Nicaragua 1990
Ireland 1990 (2, only country where a woman has succeeded another as president)
Sri Lanka 1994
Guyana 1997
Switzerland 1999 (6 [one year terms])
Latvia 1999
Panama 1999
Finland 2000
Indonesia 2001
Serbia 2002
Liberia 2006
Chile 2006 (2)
Kyrgyzstan 2010
Costa Rica 2010
Malawi 2014
Central African Republic 2014 (interim)
Senegal 2014

Prime Ministers

Sri Lanka 1960 (3)
India 1966
Israel 1969
CAR 1975
UK 1979
Dominica 1980
Norway 1981 (3)
Yugoslavia 1982
Pakistan 1988
Bangladesh 1991
Poland 1992
Turkey 1992
New Zealand 1997
Senegal 2001
Sao Tome 2002
Mozambique 2004
Ukraine 2005
Jamaica 2006 (2)
South Korea 2006
Haiti 2008 (2)
Iceland 2009
Croatia 2009
Australia 2010
Finland 2010
Slovakia 2010
Thailand 2011
Slovenia 2011

Trinidad 2011
Denmark 2011
Jamaica  2006 (2)
Latvia 2014

Race for Next UN Secretary-General Taking Shape

The six official candidates to date to succeed Ban Ki-moon

The six official candidates to date to succeed Ban Ki-moon

Feb. 22, 2016 – There are now six official candidates to succeed Ban Ki-moon and become the ninth secretary-general of the United Nations.

Four of the six declared candidates hail from the Balkans with the former Yugoslav countries hedging that strong trade links with Russia, as well as EU membership in the case of Croatia and Slovenia, and EU accession status, in the case of Macedonia and Montenegro, could see them bridge the West-Russia divide in the UN and get the support of both.

Besides Croatia’s Vesna Pusic, Macedonia’s Srgian Kerim, Slovenia’s Danilo Turk and Montenegro’s Igor Lusik, the two other candidates are Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova and Moldova’s Natalia Gherman.

Bokova, the current director-general of UNESCO, was nominated earlier this month by the Bulgarian government despite much speculation that her compatriot Kristalina Georgieva was Sofia’s favored candidate – the EU budget commissioner is also favored by the Western P5 countries, Britain, France and the US.

But all is not lost for Georgieva as the candidate process does not rule out a UN member state nominating two candidates nor does it stipulate that a candidate has to be nominated by their country of citizenship.

The sixth and most recent declared candidate is Moldova’s Natalia Gherman. UN Tribune was first to write about Gherman as a potential successor to Ban Ki-moon, noting back in April 2015 that Moldova’s strong ties with Russia, its non-membership of NATO, as well as her own pro-EU outlook, could see her emerge as a compromise candidate.

Gherman is scheduled to speak at New York’s Columbia University next week and it is interesting to note in her bio she lists fluency in English, German, Romanian and Russian – but not French, an unofficial requirement of UN secretaries-general. But there’s little reason for her to worry about this as it’s widely known that Ban Ki-moon was taking intensive French classes after his election, and French-languaue reporters still like to test him on his proficiency.

There are no clear favorites yet to succeed Ban and the list of candidates is sure to increase but what is clear so far is that the next secretary-general will come from Eastern Europe – there is no requirement as such but it is the only region not to have had a secretary-general and there is wide agreement in the general membership, if not the P5, that it is Eastern Europe’s turn – and that the UN may well elect its first female secretary-general.

Update: Feb 29, 2016 – Former UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres has been nominated by the Portuguese government. Guterres is a former prime minister of Portugal and served as UN refugee chief from 2005-15, during the worst refugee crisis in UNHCR’s history. The Portuguese government made the announcement on Monday. He is the first candidate to be nominated by a non-Eastern European member state and his candidacy, while popular, is likely to face stiff resistance from veto-wielding Russia.

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related: Natalia Gherman – Could Moldova’s Foreign Minister be the Next UN Secretary-General?