The State of Play

The surprising question still is whether an Asian candidate can survive a challenge from Eastern Europe. Most observers acknowledge it’s their turn in the regional rotation and expect an Asian to be chosen, but they aren’t getting the nod as easily as expected. Two candidates from Eastern Europe, the only UN regional group which has yet to provide a Secretary General, have expressed interest and seem to have some staying power at this point.

Asia’s chances are not helped by the fact that the region’s governments are still divided on a candidate. ASEAN, representing 10 of the 54 Asian governments, has endorsed Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai. But he is facing a notable challenge from former ambassador and former Under Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka. Still other candidates from South Korea, Singapore and East Timor have been mentioned, though only Sathirathai and Dhanapala have officially declared their candidacies.

Sathirathai has been considered the front runner, but observers are concerned his campaign may be peaking too soon to survive. A leaked memo about former Thai ambassador to the U.S., Kasit Piromya’s views that Sathirathai should withdraw as the U.S. was “unresponsive” and “unexcited” about his candidacy – which could be diplomatese for unimpressed or outright opposed – did not please the Thai Foreign Ministry. They have dismissed the remarks as “inconsistent with the facts” and have sent messages to Thailand’s embassies to reaffirm the Deputy Prime Minister’s qualifications for the post. In the December 22nd issue of the Thai major daily The Nation, Asda Jayanama, Thai ambassador to the UN from 1996-2001, pulled no punches in dismissing Sathirathai’s candidacy, going so far as to suggest he has resorted to bribery and other unethical behavior in his bid for the top post.

UPI Chief International Correspondent Roland Flamimi suggests that the Sri Lankan candidate, Jayantha Dhanapala, is favored over Sathirathai by the U.S., China and Russia. But Sathirathai is also claiming to have the latter countries’ support. All that can be said for certain at this point is that both Russia and China have committed to an Asian candidate.

This could weaken the prospects of an Eastern European stealing the show. The two suggested contenders from that region are former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski, reportedly supported by the United States, and Latvian president Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga. Russia will almost certainly veto President Kwasnewski for his involvement in the Ukrainian presidential election in 2004 against the Russian-backed incumbent candidate. Ms. Vīķe-Freiberga’s chances of gaining the Security Council’s nod are hurt by her support of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.

More later about NGO discussions on the selection process and possible dark horse candidates. For now, check out this campaign by Equality Now urging the selection of a female Secretary General.

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