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One of world's most important elections is on - quietly

While India is busy with the polls, "one of the world's most important elections" is quietly under way - to elect the UN atomic watchdog's head, also known as the nuclear pope.

world Updated: May 09, 2009 16:13 IST

While India is busy with the polls, "one of the world's most important elections" is quietly under way - to elect the UN atomic watchdog's head, also known as the nuclear pope.

The election process has been on in Vienna, the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but it is largely outside the public limelight.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner agency has served as the world's guardian of peaceful nuclear power programmes for more than 50 years, ensuring that countries do not abuse their 'right' to atomic energy by building nuclear weapons.

However, the IAEA's elections are "a secretive and convoluted mess", noted Charles D. Ferguson of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

He explains in the web edition of the Foreign Policy journal: "As befitting a nuclear papacy, the ballots are cast in secret: the 35 members of the board of governors signal their intentions to one another while concealing their votes from the public. For an organization whose watchword is transparency, the irony is rich."

The process is on for six weeks, but there is no sign of a breakthrough and three names were added late April after the two original candidates failed to get elected.

Ambassador Yukiya Amano of Japan has been the favorite of the US and many other developed countries precisely because he is a technocrat with a low political profile. But Amano failed to secure the required two-thirds majority by one vote, most likely because he was perceived as too close to Washington, Ferguson wrote.

The other first-round candidate, South Africa's ambassador Abdul Samad Minty, is a favorite among the less-developed, nonaligned world.

The three new candidates are Luis Echávarri of Spain, Ernest Petric of Slovenia and Jean-Pol Poncelet of Belgium.

One reason for initial disagreements is the standards set by incumbent Mohamed ElBaradei, who shared the Nobel prize with the agency in 2005.

"Whoever finally gets the nod will have to continue ElBaradei's work of building the agency up from a traditionally underfunded and understaffed one to an international powerhouse of legitimacy and technical capability," the expert noted.