The UN Security Council was to hold its first secret straw poll on Monday on four Asian candidates vying to succeed Secretary General Kofi Annan, diplomatic sources said.
All four candidates are Asian, due to an unwritten rule that the United Nations' leadership alternates between continents, and it was Asia's turn after the Ghanaian Annan's second five year term expires at the end of the year.
The four are South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon, Sri Lankan diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala, Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, and India's Shashi Tharoor, a UN undersecretary in charge of communications.
The 15 members of the UN Security Council were to be presented with three choices in the secret poll: encourage, discourage, and no opinion.
But no official announcement was to be made on the results of the first straw poll, diplomats said.
The voting process is expected to take several rounds and could possibly stretch out until September or October, if not longer.
"We're just starting the process today and we'll see how many (rounds) are necessary in the months to come," one diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
"I won't go into the details of procedure because we have decided not to communicate" with the public about the process, the diplomat said.
The diplomat added there was still time for other candidates to enter the race, and encouraged them to do so.
"We hope other candidates will declare themselves, because the more candidates you have, the more choice you can have," the diplomat said.
Under UN Charter rules, the secretary general is elected by the 192-member General Assembly under recommendation from the Security Council, whose five permanent members -- the United States, China, France, Britain and Russia -- have veto power.
In practice, the five permanent members have dominated the secretary general succession process.
The diplomat said the four candidates and their nation's UN ambassadors will be notified of the straw poll's results.