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Lack of political experience no hindrance: Tharoor

The United Nations, Tharoor said, is a government of 192 prime ministers telling the incumbent what to do.

india Updated: Aug 31, 2006 16:52 IST
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India

India's nominee for the UN Secretary General's post Shashi Tharoor has rejected the contention that lack of political experience would be a hindrance in performing his duties as the world body's chief.

The lack of parliamentary experience is, in actuality, an advantage in practical terms, Tharoor said.

"The Secretary Generals of the UN have in every case without exception been largely unknown diplomats or civil servants when they got elected.

"They were all people who emerged with the ability to run an organization that has become more and more complex over the years, and that is simply not analogous to running a government," he said an interaction with reporters over webcast.

The United Nations, Tharoor said, is a government of 192 prime ministers telling the incumbent what to do.

So it's not a job that someone who has actually been a prime minister or president would find "particularly palatable," he said.

Tharoor pointed out that he himself has served as an international civil servant from the age of 22-- he is now 50 -- having worked on refugees and humanitarian issues, peacekeeping, management reform. Currently, he is Under Secretary General for Communications.

Replying to questions, Tharoor said the United Nations is an extremely complex system, which would be difficult for an outsider to run.

He said that Canada's initiative to make the UN Security Council procedures more transparent as well as the India-led campaign for multiple nominations that the made the Council decide to consider only candidates who were openly nominated by member countries.

"The four names that therefore came to the Council are the result of a more open process than has ever happened before, and the only way in which someone else could now emerge would be through the same process, through officially putting their name forward in a public manner to the Security Council," he explained.

About his "campaign" travels to present his credentials, Tharoor said, "This used to be a job for which people didn't have to campaign.

I remember Kofi Annan (the current UN Secretary General) when he entered the race in 1996 being able to do his work as Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping while the Security Council discussed names behind closed doors.

The press interaction was hosted by Sreenath Sreenivasan, dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, who asked questions on his own behalf as also submitted by reporters.

He also rejected the suggestion that India's bid for the post of Secretary-General would adversely affect its chances for getting permanent membership of the Security Council.

"Until there is agreement among two-thirds of the member states about a formula for Security Council expansion, a formula that can then be ratified by two-thirds of the world's parliaments including those of all five permanent members, until that happens, there will not even be a framework within which India can seek a permanent seat.

And that will take time, whereas the Secretary-Generalship will be decided one way or the other within the next few months."

Asked what his plans were if he was not nominated by the Security Council, Tharoor responded, "I don't have a Plan B. Never did and don't now.

"I've really devoted my adult working life from the age of 22 to working for the United Nations so you'll really forgive me for not having entertained any other possibilities.

If this doesn't work, then I will have to start thinking about it, and of course, all good ideas will be welcomed. But at this stage, I am very much focused on a race I intend to win."

The current race for the Secretary Generalship, he said, has been "the most transparent".

There are currently four official nominees-- Tharoor, South Korea's foreign minister Ban Ki Moon, Thailand's Surakiart Sathirathai and Sri Lanka's Jayanta Dhanapala.

Asked why he was running for the post, Tharoor noted, "I have a first-hand experience from the inside and from the ground up of some of the most important issues and challenges which a Secretary General can face.

"I also feel quite strongly that whereas being an insider may not be the ideal from everyone's point of view because many feel that the UN needs a new broom to come in and sweep clean, but the UN is the kind of organization where an old broom can sweep cleaner because it will know where to sweep and how to sweep."

First Published: Aug 31, 2006 16:52 IST