Silence of the Candidates

As a new feature of, we will be inviting special guest commentators to contribute their views on aspects of the UNSG selection process, the candidates and the decision-makers. Our first guest commentator is Ayca Ariyoruk, the Larger Freedoms research fellow with the Center for U.N. Reform Education in New York. Ms. Ariyoruk recently interviewed Jayantha Dhanapala and Surakiart Sathirathai on their respective candidacies for UNSG. As always, we invite your comments in providing feedback to our guest commentators. 

It is about time the UN stops clinging to the age-old tradition of discouraging candidates for the top UN post from speaking and engaging in public debate. Candidates can not find in New York the ‘idea and debate-friendly’ environment they found in Davos. For that reason, they are pulling out of public speaking arrangements and are naturally hesitant to address wider audiences in close proximity to the UN, thinking it could undermine their candidacy. Representatives from the United States, France, China, Russia, and UK have a unique role in this. If they are indeed serious about strengthening the office of the secretary general, they should send a clear message that ‘speaking publicly will not automatically undermine candidacy’ and encourage candidates to articulate their vision. Promoting silence is undermining the calls for a new mindset at the United Nations.   

The process of selecting the secretary general should be viewed as an integral part of management reforms and improved in the same manner as the other high level appointments at the UN. Not only is this long over due, but it is also politically viable. A nice gesture on behalf of the great powers, it could positively impact the negotiations with the developing countries on other reforms, convincing them to go along with other management improvements targeted at strengthening the office of the secretary general. It is an ideal ‘position here, grant there’ situation; an opportunity to ease suspicions towards the management reforms and a position that would build confidence in the United States’ approach.

The present U.S. approach on management reforms – “Do as I say, don’t do as I do” – will not get them where they want to be, at least not fast enough. The group that represents the developing nations at the UN is firm, ready to react and to block any initiative which could potentially reduce their influence in the Secretariat. If the U.S. wants to see a secretary general that is not micromanaged by the 132 developing countries and a more accountable and transparent United Nations, than the U.S. should be prepared to give on this tradition. Ambassador Bolton could further U.S. interests in broader UN reform by promoting a transparent, inclusive process for the next secretary general selection and affirming that candidates will not be “punished” for speaking publicly and directly about their candidacy. This approach would preserve the Security Council accountablity in their choice of secretary general, respect the interests of developing nations, and benefit the world organization through a more effective and trusted Secretary General.

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