The election process for the next UN secretary-general has been launched with an unprecedented call to member states to recommend women candidates for the top job held by a man for the past seven decades.
The UN Security Council president for December, US envoy Samantha Power, and General Assembly president Mogens Lykketoft circulated a letter on Tuesday to the 193 UN members that solicited names of candidates and vowed to make the process more transparent and inclusive.
They placed special emphasis on the need to nominate women. No woman has served as the world’s top diplomat in the 70 years the UN has been in existence.
India has advocated the more open process that was introduced following a General Assembly resolution earlier this year. India’s Permanent Representative Asoke Mukerji has also said gender equality should be given due regard.
It was not clear from the letter sent out by Power and Lykketoft if a slate of candidates will be presented by the Security Council to the General Assembly, as requested by India, or it would follow the practice of presenting just one.
With the acknowledgment that the popular sentiment is for a woman from Eastern Europe, the list of likely candidates has narrowed. Checking off both those boxes are Croatia’s first deputy prime minister Vesna Pusic, UNESCO director general and former Bulgarian foreign minister Irina Bokova, Bulgarian economist Kristalina Georgieva who is the European Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources, and Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite.
Bokova, with her experience leading UNESCO, is considered a strong candidate.
The letter from Power and Lykketoft said: “Convinced of the need to guarantee equal opportunities for women and men in gaining access to senior decision-making positions, member states are encouraged to consider presenting women, as well as men, as candidates for the position of Secretary-General.”
Lykketoft said only two candidates had been put forward so far - Croatia’s Vesna Pusic and former UN General Assembly president Srgjan Kerim of Macedonia.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has served two five-year terms and his tenure concludes at the end of 2016. The election will be held in the second half of the year.
He has been a strong proponent of electing a woman as his successor and has said several times that “it’s high time for a secretary-general to be a woman”.
According to the UN Charter, the secretary-general is appointed by the General Assembly following the recommendation of the Security Council. Until now, the secretary-general was selected behind closed doors by the Security Council, with the five veto-wielding permanent members having the last word.
There is a growing demand from member states to make the process more transparent and inclusive and to have a woman assume the role.
In another unprecedented move, Power and Lykketoft said potential candidates will be given an opportunity to hold informal dialogues or meetings with members of the Security Council and General Assembly. The open process could erode the P-5’s secretive and firm control of the election.
Lykettoft said the new process would “increase the de-facto power” of the 193-member Assembly.
All eight secretaries-general so far have been men selected in backroom deals by permanent members of the Council and rubber-stamped by the Assembly.
Under the informal system of regional rotation followed since the election of Myanmar’s U Thant in 1961, it is a European’s turn to follow Asia’s Ban.