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Portugal’s Guterres tops poll for next UN chief

UNITED NATIONS: Portugal’s former prime minister Antonio Guterres has maintained his spot as first choice to succeed Ban Ki-moon as the next UN secretary-general, topping the fourth successive informal poll in the Security Council, diplomats said Friday.

The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because voting is supposed to be kept secret, said Slovakia’s Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak remained in second place followed by Serbia’s former foreign minister Vuk Jeremic. Former Macedonian foreign minister Srgjan Kerim moved up from sixth to fourth place followed by Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, who heads UNESCO, the diplomats said.

By tradition, the job of secretary-general has rotated among regions. Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe have all held the post. East European nations, including Russia, argue that they have never had a secretary-general and it is their turn. There has also never been a woman secretary-general and more than 50 nations are campaigning to elect the first female UN chief, along with many organisations.

Ban, whose second five-year term ends on Dec 31, said last month that after eight men “it’s high time now” for a woman to head the United Nations. The fact that the highest-ranking woman was only in fifth place among the 10 candidates was sure to be a disappointment.

In the latest poll, diplomats said former Slovenian President Danilo Turk came in sixth, Argentina’s Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra seventh, and former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, who heads the UN Development Program, eighth. Two other women, Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica, the UN official who played a key role in shaping last December’s historic agreement to fight climate change, was in ninth place and Moldovan Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman in 10th, according to the diplomats.

The secretary-general is chosen by the 193-member General Assembly on the recommendation of the 15-member Security Council. In practice, this has meant that the council’s five permanent members — the US, Russia, China, Britain and France — have veto power over the candidates. In Friday’s informal poll, council members voted whether to “encourage,” “discourage,” or express “no opinion” about the 10 candidates — five men and five women.

Guterres, who was Portugal’s center-left Socialist prime minister from 1995-2002 and UN High Commissioner for Refugees until the end of 2015, got 12 “encourage” votes, two “discourage” and one “no opinion.” For him, the big question mark remains whether any of the vetoes are from Russia or another permanent member. Britain’s UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft stressed that the straw polls should narrow the field and focus on who will be the strongest secretary-general. He reiterated that candidates that have no possibility of getting at least the minimum nine positive votes and no vetoes by a permanent member, should consider dropping out because they won’t win the race.


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