Sri Lanka withdrew its candidate on Friday from the race to succeed UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as all signs pointed to South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon getting the job.
US Ambassador John Bolton said he would not be surprised at fresh developments as some candidates "might withdraw and others might come in." But no new names have emerged.
The Sri Lankan government, in an e-mail, withdrew the name of Jayantha Dhanapala, a career diplomat and a former UN undersecretary-general for disarmament.
After his low showing in the third informal poll among UN Security Council members on Thursday, Sri Lanka said it had "decided not to further pursue the candidature of Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala in the interest of ensuring a consensus in electing an Asian candidate."
Diplomats said the huge costs of running a campaign of travel, lobbying and speaking around the world have handicapped candidates like Dhanapala in the competition with foreign ministers and officials from wealthier countries.
A candidate needs at least nine votes in favour and no veto from any of the permanent council members - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. Another, more telling, straw poll will be conducted on Monday, this time with coloured ballots to distinguish the veto holders from the other 10 council members, elected for two-year terms.
In Thursday's informal poll, Ban received 13 votes in favour, one less than in the previous balloting. In second place was Shashi Tharoor, the Indian UN undersecretary-general for public information with eight favourable votes followed by Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the only woman and non-Asian in the race, with seven positive votes.
AID FROM SOUTH KOREA?
Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, whose country had a coup last week, received five votes. Dhanapala, Jordan's UN Ambassador Prince Zeid al Hussein and former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani each received three votes in favour.
The next secretary-general is expected to come from Asia because the job traditionally rotates among regions. The last Asian in the post was U Thant of Burma, who held office from 1961 to 1971.
Both the Times of London and the Washington Post cited aid packages from South Korea to Security Council members, including a trade mission to Greece earlier this month, which Ban has denied was connected with his candidacy.
Questioned about the link, Greece's UN Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, this month's council president, said, "Greece is not making deals on that kind of issue."
"Greece has been dealing with South Korea for years. There is nothing new in that," Vassilakis said, adding that Athens was only looking at a "candidate's qualifications."
Bolton has been among those pushing for a quick decision, with diplomats saying the Bush administration supported Ban.
"So I think we are at the point, since we are close to a decision, if anybody wants to be considered, they need to come forward quickly" Bolton said.
"We want to have this decision made in a fashion that will give the incoming secretary-general a fully adequate period for transition," Bolton added.