Big Power Politics Threaten to Upset U.N. Secretary-General Race

Big Power Politics Threaten to Upset U.N. Secretary-General Race
Mogens Lykketoft, president of the U.N. General Assembly, hosting the first-ever televised live debate with Secretary-General candidates, New York, July 12, 2016 (U.N. photo by Evan Schneider).

Anyone who claims that they know who will be running the United Nations one year from now is a clairvoyant, a fantasist or a liar. The race to replace Ban Ki-moon as secretary-general jolted into life last Thursday, as the Security Council conducted a straw poll on current candidates. The results are open to multiple interpretations.

It is possible to argue that the council will select a charismatic politician to replace the underwhelming Ban. But it is equally arguable that it is on track to choose a dull, male leader despite the presence of impressive female candidates. One likely, but also depressing, interpretation is that the U.S. and Russia—the council members most likely to pick the winner—are headed toward a showdown over the outcome.

Predictions about the race come with qualifications. In theory, last week’s straw poll was confidential, and the votes are nonbinding. In reality, scores leaked within hours. Even so, they are hard to read with confidence. The 15 council members had the chance to “encourage” or “discourage” the 12 formal candidates to be secretary-general. But while the five permanent members of the council will be able to veto anyone they don’t like, they are not required to show their hands at this stage. So even a candidate who looks strong now may actually already be doomed.

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