WANTED: Women to run for office of UN secretary-general

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United Nations, Dec 16: The election process for the next UN secretary-general that could see a woman ascend to the leadership of the world body has been launched with the promise of openness and universal involvement.

Assembly president Mogens Lykettoft and Council president Samantha Power on Tuesday called for nominations of women for the office with the assurance of an unprecedented open, democratic process that could erode the the P-5's secretive, firm control of the election.

United Nations

For the first time in the UN's history, members will be directly involved in the election of its head, Lykettoft told reporters.

"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," Lykettoft and Power wrote in a joint letter to all the UN members. "We note the regional diversity in the selection of previous secretaries-general."

Several organisations and leaders have been lobbying for a woman to head the UN.

They said they "will offer candidates opportunities for informal dialogues or meetings with the members" of the Council and Assembly. This sets up a campaign system reflective of the elections in democracies where candidates interact directly with voters.

Releasing the letter to the media, Lykettoft said the new process would "increase the de-facto power" of the 193-member Assembly. He noted that there were strong sentiments for having a woman as the secretary-general and also for someone from the East Europe, but said the decision was up to the members.

All the eight secretaries-general in the UN's 70-year history have been men selected in backroom deals by the permanent members of the Council and rubber-stamped by the Assembly to fulfill the Charter's requirement.

Ban Ki-moon's second term concludes at the end of 2016 and the election will be held in the second half of the year.

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. No East European has served in the UN's highest job, which has been held by three from the West.

Because the region had been under the firm control of the Soviet Union whenever it was Europe's turn, no one from there was acceptable to the other permanent members.

India has advocated the more open process that has been introduced following an Assembly resolution earlier this year. In April India's Permanent Representative Asoke Kumar Mukerji told a panel on reforming the election process that the Security Council should present a slate of candidates, rather than just one, to the General Assembly, which should elect one of them by a two-thirds majority.

"The secretary-general is often unfortunately perceived to be a secretary vis-a-vis the Security Council and a General vis-a-vis the General Assembly" because the official is beholden to the Council, Mukerji said. "This perception has to be reversed."

The election of Ban's successor "gives us an historic opportunity to change and improve the existing selection process of the secretary-general in the interests of the United Nations system in general, and the Assembly's prerogatives in particular," he added.

Although the election process has been opened up, it was not clear from the Power- Lykettoft letter if a slate of candidates would be presented by the Council to the Assembly, as requested by India, or it would follow the practice of presenting just one.

The UN Charter does not say that the Council can recommend only one candidate to the Council. But the practice was recommended as "desirable" by a 1946 Assembly resolution.

Even if the Council were to persist in sending only one name, it is likely that the candidates' interactions with the members would strongly and openly influence the Council's choice.

With the acknowledgment that the popular sentiment was for a woman from Eastern Europe, the list of likely candidates has narrowed. Checking off both those boxes are Vesna Pusic, Croatia's first deputy prime minister (who has already been formally nominated by her government); Irina Bokova, the UNESCO director general and former Bulgarian foreign minister; Kristalina Ivanova Georgieva, a Bulgarian economist 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.

An Eastern European man Srgjan Kerim, the former Macedonian foreign minister, has also been formally nominated by his government.

This time around, India is unlikely to repeat the debacle of nominating a candidate as it did in 2006 by having Sashi Tharoor run against Ban.

IANS

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