The process to select the next UN Secretary General may be approaching its climax with the decision of the 15-member Security Council to hold two straw polls in quick succession - one on Thursday afternoon (early hours of Friday India time) and another on Monday.
Although seven candidates are in the fray now, the contest is seen to be essentially between South Korea's Ban Ki-Moon and India's Shashi Tharoor. Ban has topped both the previous straw polls, with Tharoor coming second.
Thursday's poll will be like the previous ones, but the one on Monday will use ballots of two different colours to reveal which way the five veto-holding members vote. A negative vote from any of these five members - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - can spell the end for an aspirant.
A candidate needs nine votes with no negative vote from a veto power to be recommended to the General Assembly for the formal election for a five-year term.
In the last straw poll on September 14, front-runner Ban had improved his lead over Tharoor. While Ban got 14 votes of "encouragement" and a solitary "discouragement", Tharoor's tally was: 10 of "encouragement", three of "discouragement" and two "no opinion".
The other five candidates are: Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, Jordan's UN envoy Zeid Al-Hussain, Sri Lanka's former UN disarmament official Jayantha Dhanapala and two recent entrants -- Latvian President Vaira Vike Freiberga and former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani.
In the Security Council proceedings, Britain was not in favour of a straw poll with coloured ballots at this juncture. Its rationale was that the Latvian and Afghan candidates, being late entrants, have not had the benefit of any straw poll so far.
But the US was among the countries reportedly keen to bring the election for this top post to a speedy conclusion. US envoy John Bolton said "plenty of time has elapsed for us to go to the differentiated ballot". As he put it, "We are at the point where we should make a decision."
In remarks to the media ahead of Thursday's poll, Tharoor has termed it an essentially "two-horse race" involving Ban and himself.