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Lose some, win some

Shashi Tharoor and India must not be dejected for we stand to gain as much from Moon?s success, writes Chinmaya Gharekhan.

india Updated: Oct 04, 2006 03:26 IST

Ban Ki-MOON, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, is assured of his selection as the new United Nations Secretary-General. Moon will be the eighth person to occupy the most prestigious and, often, the most thankless diplomatic job in the world. As Shashi Tharoor, in his remarks conceding victory to Moon, said, the international community wished Moon success in his challenging assignment, for his success would be a success for all of us.

In the fourth and last straw vote held behind closed doors in the Security Council’s informal consultations room on October 2, Moon received 14 ‘encourage’, i.e. positive votes, none ‘discourage’, i.e. negative vote, and one ‘no opinion’, i.e. abstention. Since he was the only one not to have attracted a negative vote from a permanent member — a negative indication from a non-permanent member would not have changed the equation — Moon will be officially nominated by the Security Council at a formal vote expected to be held on Monday, October 9. The Council’s recommendation will be sent to the General Assembly, which will elect Moon by acclamation.

Tharoor obtained 10 positive votes. Thus, he improved his tally compared to the third straw poll that had taken place a fortnight ago. He got one more than the required majority of nine votes. However, one permanent member indicated a negative vote to him, suggesting that it would exercise its veto against Tharoor in case his candidature came up for an official vote. It is futile and counter-productive to speculate about the identity of this permanent member; we shall never know, unless the country concerned volunteers to publicly acknowledge its attitude. If Tharoor had not received a ‘discourage’ from a permanent member, both he and Moon would have gone for an official vote, or the Council would have held more informal polls or consultations.

Incidentally, the procedure of straw votes — for the perfecting of which this writer had something to do as President of the Security Council in October 1991 — has amply demonstrated its effectiveness and utility.

Tharoor and India have nothing to regret. Tharoor did consistently well, coming second in all the straw votes. His was a creditable performance, considering that he entered the fray long after Moon announced his candidature. It seems that his nationality was not necessarily a negative factor for his candidature. This speaks volumes for India’s standing in the world. Was there anything specific that might have hurt Tharoor’s chances? Some analysts believe that the statement of the US government, through its Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, John Bolton, that it did not want another ‘insider’ might have been unhelpful. However, this suggests that the US was not happy with the secretary-generalship of Kofi Annan, who, like Tharoor, had been a UN staff member for over 25 years. (To conclude from Bolton’s statement that it was the US that cast the ‘discourage’ vote against Tharoor would not necessarily be correct.) The US position is somewhat difficult to comprehend in view of the fact that Annan had presented his candidature in 1996 with the US’s explicit encouragement and endorsement.

The other factor that might have adversely affected Tharoor’s chances was the perception that he was close to Annan. Yet another factor could be the fact that he was from India, a major power; permanent members feel more comfortable with secretaries general from smaller countries.

Moon had the advantage of being the Foreign Minister of a country that is a close ally of a permanent member that is not shy of using its veto power. South Korea is also an indispensable member of the Six-Nation Dialogue with North Korea about the latter’s nuclear programme. To state this is not to detract from the outstanding success of Moon, who led comfortably in all the four straw votes. Whoever has met him seems to have been impressed by his qualities and personality.

The depressing aspect for me is that most people in India would not feel sorry that Tharoor did not make it. Any number of columnists and others would now come forward and remind anyone who cares to be reminded that ‘I had told you so’. It is a reflection on the Indian character that we seldom want a fellow Indian to succeed. The one redeeming feature is that, while the decision to nominate Tharoor as India’s candidate was taken by the Prime Minister, none of the political parties criticised the government for its decision. Tharoor’s candidature, in effect, was a non-partisan matter for Indian political parties.

Tharoor is a talented person. He will be the first to realise that there is life beyond the candidacy for UN Secretary-General’s post. We should all give him our best wishes in his future endeavours.


Chinmaya Gharekhan was India’s
Representative to the UN and is the author of
The Horseshoe Table: An Inside View of
the UN Security Council