An August Lull

It has been quiet on the race in the last week, most reporting being reiterations of the straw poll results, the occasional guess at who voted for whom and where the candidates are traveling on the campaign trail. There is no sign of candidates dropping out, and contrary to the spec just before the straw poll, no new candidates are jumping into the race. Both Surakiart and Dhanapala intend to continue in the race, hoping those “no opinion” votes shift over to the “encourage” column later this month.

Ban Ki Moon will be paying his respects at the funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro this week. Japan, one will recall, is strongly considered the government which “discouraged” Ban in the straw poll. Afterwards, Ban will visit Security Council members Argentina and Peru, followed by a trip to New Zealand and Australia. He does appear to have secured the support of Uruguay, as announced by that government’s ambassador at the reopening of Uruguayan embassy in Seoul.

“We support the candidacy of Minister Ban for the U.N. secretary general,” he said. “We hope he will win.”

Second place candidate Shashi Tharoor, playing catch-up with his fellow Asians on the campaign trail, recently returned from his campaign stop in Singapore during which he reiterated his independence from Indian politics. Described as having “just the right mix of idealism and pragmatism and even a trace of romanticism,” Tharoor nonetheless admitted the UNSG must acknowledge UN realpolitick: 

“A future secretary general who sufficiently antagonises one of the P-5 members could again find himself in the situation of Boutros-Boutros Ghali (…who incurred the wrath of the US and was consequently denied a second term),” he replied when asked how he would handle American pressure and recurrent interventions of the US in UN decision-making.

“No one who is not acceptable to the P-5 can become elected,” he said.

“The practical reason that any UNSC has to cooperate with P-5 is that you can’t achieve results without them,” he added.

Ban is the only candidate who can claim permanent member backing, but a quick & dirty analysis of the straw poll results show at least seven governments marked “encouragements” for both Ban and Tharoor on their ballots. (This raises to either 9 or 10 if leaks about two ballots are accepted.) 

A source at the Thai UN mission though has suggested that Shashi Tharoor’s good showing in the straw poll was more an acknowledgement of India’s growing role on the world stage than genuine support for the Indian candidate. Sour grapes, perhaps? Dr. Surakiart will also be visiting Argentina and Peru, followed by trips to Africa. His perception as a potential leader of the world body suffers from the situation in Burma, and he is routinely dismissed in editorials at homeChapter 15 takes an interesting look at Surakiart, and particularly his pregnant claim to be “an ASEAN candidate…not a candidate of Thailand.”

Chapter 15 also links to an article on Dhanapala’s blog suggesting a breakdown of his vote tally. The reported votes don’t offer any surprises, and even show the P5 split on his candidacy. One Canadian editorialist, however, suggests a not-so-bright future for the UN from which Dhanapala might want to quietly walk away. 

Whether these gentlemen decide to continue their campaigns or serve in other roles, it is important for governments to keep in mind what tasks will be before the next UNSG, as Edgardo B. Espiritu eloquently reminds us:

“…the next UN secretary-general will play a very vital role in the future direction of global affairs. There is much unfinished business in the international stage. The achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs—goals and specific targets at improving overall human welfare that the international goals have set for the year 2015—is still at risk. There are huge global problems—terrorism and security issues; the threat of the emergence of widespread and prolonged war in the Middle East; the still widening North-South gaps and global inequality, including the growing digital divide; the problems of accelerated urbanization and the related tremendous pressures on the environment; the need for vital public services to keep up with population growth particularly in the developing world. The new UN secretary-general will have to institute the required reforms in the UN and galvanize the international community to effectively address all these challenges, and at the same time balance the concerns of the global powers and the poor countries.”

Let us hope that governments will look that over again before they cast their next straw vote.

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