The United Nations General Assembly hall | wikimedia

UN-charted territory

Text Joshua Cooper

A former Pacific Island head of state is one of the front runners to be the ninth secretary general of the United Nations (UN). If elected to the position, Helen Clark—the former Prime Minister of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and current Administrator of the UN Development Programme—would be the first woman to lead the organization in its 70-year history.

Perhaps equally significant, Clark is participating in the first election of a UN secretary general to involve all 193 member states, instead of just the five that comprise the UN Security Council. The previous eight secretary generals have all been men selected solely by the the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain and France. On top of that, in previous election years the names of the candidates were not made public and they were selected entirely behind closed doors.

By contrast, the new proccess is taking place in front of the UN General Assembly and involves candid candidate debates viewed all around the world. "For the most difficult job in the world we now have the most difficult job interview of the world," says Denmark’s Mogens Lykketoft, the president of the General Assembly. "We are sailing into uncharted waters here."

Among the unheard of nine candidates seeking the seat, four are women and seven are from Eastern Europe (a region that has never been represented at the UN’s chief administrative level). The candidates are Dr. Srgjan Kerim from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Dr. Vesna Pusić from the Republic of Croatia, Dr. Igor Lukšić from Montenegro, Dr. Danilo Türk from Slovenia, Irina Bokova from Bulgaria, Natalia Gherman from the Republic of Moldova, Vuk Jeremić from the Republic of Serbia, António Guterres from Portugal and Aotearoa’s Helen Clark. You can read more about each candidate here.

From April 12–14, member states and the general public were able to ask questions of each of the candidates during individual, two-hour windows that were broadcast worldwide over the Internet. These “auditions” began with a short oral presentation by the candidate offering viewpoints and visions for the future of the United Nations, discussing obstacles and presenting opportunities for change and growth. Ambassadors from the 193 member states asked questions and the president of the UN General Assembly presented questions from the more than one thousand submitted by members of the global public from some 70 nations under the hashtag #UNSGcandidates. The first ever open, public debate among candidates for the position was held at Civic Hall in midtown Manhatten on April 13. There will be a followup debate planned for June 3 in London.

Representatives from the 193 member states were eager to hear the candidates’ stances on issues such as the refugee crisis, the future of peacekeeping missions, gender equality, the economic impact of sanctions, peace talks in the Middle East, and implementing the ambitious 2030 Agenda.

The candidates were each asked to outline their plans for the decades-long Palestine-Israel conflict. “It's a source of enormous sadness for me that it’s gone on my whole lifetime without a solution,” said Clark, who also pledged to do anything she can to help the Palestinian people.

“We should feel guilty as long as we don't have a solution,” she said. “The two-state-solution must be implemented, however, with Israel as an integral part of it. As long as Israel is part of the problem, and not part of the solution, I doubt that we will have a solution.”

Srgjan Kerim of Macedonia echoed Clark’s stance on Palestine and most of the candidates promised to address what they consider to be root causes of terrorism. Clark insisted that she would be firm on religious tolerance, arguing that, “Muslim communities are often the subject of marginalisation and stereotyping. We have to look at what drives recruitment for extremism.

“We have to create positive choices in marginalised communities,” she continued. “The youth often don't have a lot of positive choices, but plenty of negative ones. They can become jihadists and traffickers of goods and people.”

Beyond those three days of formal proceedure, informal forums have popped up all over New York City, and universities have begun hosting candidate briefings. This new level of awareness and openness could create an atmosphere of greater accountability and could mean that the ninth secretary general will be more loyal to the principles in the UN Charter, and not the member nations of the UN Security Council.

In late July, the first UN Security Council straw poll will take place, which could whittle down the number of candidates but, in the meantime, a clear global favorite could emerge, forcing the Security Council to recognize, for the first time, the will of the people of the whole planet in choosing the next facilitator of global unity.


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