Britain: Not just yet…

September 27th, 2006

UK PR Sir Emyr Jones Parry (UN Photo #105737)The ambassadors of China and the United States have each stated their hopes that the UNSG race will soon wrap up, but Britain reportedly is not quite ready to finalize the selection.

…some diplomats had wanted the next [straw poll] to include colored ballots to indicate whether the candidates get votes for or against from any of the five veto-wielding members of the council _ Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

However, two U.N. diplomats said Tuesday that Britain had balked at that idea during a meeting to discuss how to conduct the next poll. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because the results of the meeting were private.

One of the diplomats said Britain didn’t want the colored ballots because two of the candidates – Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and former Afghanistan finance minister Ashraf Ghani – had only just entered the race and had not been through the earlier polls. They should be extended the courtesy of a standard straw poll, the diplomat said.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton is ready for this to be over.

…Bolton said, “We have said for some time we want to try and reach this decision by the end of September, early October, and so plenty of time has elapsed for us to go to the differentiated ballot.”

But Britain’s push back on moving on to colored-coded ballots is not simply an exercise in fairness. In addition to giving Vike-Freiberga and Ghani an opportunity to campaign, Britain could be hoping more candidates will come forward.   

The other diplomat said that Britain did not want Ban to get so much support that other candidates would be dissuaded from joining the race. Britain believed that the colored ballots could do just that, the diplomat said.

Whether more candidates would come forward has been a subject of prolonged and uncertain discussion among observers. Most felt that Ban’s strong show on September 14th practically sealed it for him, and if the Qatari rumor is true, all the more so.

A source informed me yesterday that he learned this weekend that another Asian – one who has been discussed – informed his staff that he would be entering the race. The source did not want to say who this was, but it is not inconsistent with Britain’s reported hesitancy.

Another observer also suggested that the United States could have been behind entry of the most recent contenders – Zeid, Vike-Freiberga and Ghani, all from countries more favorable to U.S. global interests than their fellow candidates – in its search for a more acceptable nominee.

But can any new candidate overcome Ban’s lead? Even Shashi Tharoor, the second-place candidate in the two straw polls to date, considers Ban “the man to beat.”

“I think it’s still very early days in terms of intentions,” Tharoor said in an interview, though he added: “If (Ban) consolidates his position in the next ballot, then of course it could well be all over or close to it.”

Nothing personal…

September 26th, 2006

Finnish President Tarja Halonen will not be backing her Latvian counterpart’s campaign to become the first woman UNSG. Halonen emphasized that regional criteria and experience could not be dismissed simply in favor of gender equality. 

Halonen did not give her support to the only woman candidate in the race for Secretary-General – Latvia’s President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. The Finnish President feels that the next holder of the post should be from Asia.

“Pushing forward a woman is linked with these other factors. In other words, I hope that there would be a geographical dimension, UN experience, and everything that has been called for here”, Halonen said.

Is it almost over?

September 22nd, 2006

From The Australian – The World

Expectations of a Ban victory have risen sharply after UN corridor talk established Qatar was the country that voted to “discourage” his candidacy at the last straw poll taken in the 15-member Security Council.

It meant that Mr Ban’s 14 “encouragements” included the council’s five permanent members – the US, Britain, China, Russia and France – whose votes will ultimately be crucial.

More to come…

Surakiart back in Bangkok

September 22nd, 2006

Thai UNSG candidate Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai has returned to Thailand following the coup and expressed his appreciation for the interim military government’s continuing support of his candidacy. It was not certain however what if any role he would play in the interim government.

Asked whether he must have a post in the new cabinet if he needed to compete for the UN top post, Dr. Surkiart said he was confident he would continue to do that now that CDRM had supported him.

But for many, Surakiart’s campaign is significantly weakened since the coup.

An armed coup in Thailand has undermined the chances of Thai ex-Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai to the post of U.N. Secretary-General, Itar-Tass quoted permanent representative of the People’s Republic of China at the United Nations Organisation, Wang Guangya as saying.

Former Thai Ambassador Asda Jayanama continued his appeal for Surakiart to drop out, suggesting, despite his increased support in the September 14th straw poll, that he did not received backing from all of the Security Council permanent members. The coup would only make his efforts more difficult, said Asda.

Despite the backing from the military, Asda said it would be difficult for Surakiart to mount a serious challenge now as he would not be able to get the kind of financing and manpower backing he was getting prior to the coup.

UPDATE: ASEAN is still backing Surakiart, though weakly it appears. 

“We reaffirmed our support,” Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said as he emerged from a breakfast meeting of foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

While some of the ASEAN ministers agreed that the coup may hurt Surakiart, the ministers could not overturn their leaders’ endorsement, so they left the decision to Thailand on whether to withdraw his name, said a diplomat who attended the meeting, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the issue.

Thailand said it was still backing Surakiart and asked for an ASEAN statement of support, but no consensus could be reached when other ASEAN members said any statement should also touch on the situation in the country, the official said, adding that no alternatives to Surakiart were proposed.

Ghani’s nomination official

September 20th, 2006

The government of Afghanistan today officially nominated former Finance Minister Dr. Ashraf Ghani for UNSG.

Update: The letter of nomination has been circulated to members of the Security Council.

This comes several days following a report in the Financial Times that Ghani’s nomination was forthcoming but with no confirmation from the government. Speculation suggested that Ghani’s nomination may not have been official and that differences between Ghani and President Hamid Karzai could preclude the government from backing him.

But a statement on the nomination by the Foreign Minister today noted Ghani’s “innovative leadership” and “exemplary service” in the reconstruction of post-Taliban Afghanistan.

The Government of Afghanistan believes that Ashraf Ghani is uniquely equipped to lead the United Nations at time when imagination and leadership are required in both security and development.  He has worked at the frontlines of conflict and poverty.  As someone who stands at the intersection of Islam and the West, he has the capacity to bring the world together at a time of growing religious and geopolitical tension.

The Government of Afghanistan was prompted to nominate Ghani by the need for the United Nations to have a Secretary General who was not only good
diplomat and manager, but who also understands the unique challenges of a world vexed by growing insecurity.

See the earlier post by guest author Draconian Observations for more on Ghani and to share your own views.

UNSG Candidates Forum Postponed

September 20th, 2006

Developments over the last several days have prompted the organizers and moderator of the September 26th Candidates Forum to postpone the event.

The coup in Thailand yesterday and what appears to be a continously evolving field of candidates – Vike-Freiberga’s in, as appears is Ghani, but Surakiart’s still uncertain – prompted last-minute schedule changes and the organizers’ decision. These considerations precluded the Forum from fulfilling its function-providing the public with a comprehensive look at the views of candidates being formally considered by the UN Security Council. 

Decisions on the event’s rescheduling will take place once a clearer picture of the field of candidates is available following the September 28th straw poll.

For more information, contact:

Julio Martinez
Bridging Nations
1800 K St. NW Suite 622
Washington, DC 20006
Tel: 202-741-3875

Surakiart’s campaign survives coup

September 20th, 2006

It appears that Thailand’s Surakiart Sathirathai’s candidacy for UNSG will continue at least until the country’s new government is installed.

Thailand’s Army Commander-in-Chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who led the military coup in the country… said the military government would continue the country’s foreign policy and there would be no change to it.

They also will continue to support Deputy Prime Minister Dr Surakiart Sathirathai’s bid for the UN Secretary-General post end of this year.

Whether the new government will continue the campaign is in no way certain.

“How can you have a candidate who is a representative of a government that no longer exists,” said Thai-language weekly Asian Pacific News Editor Paison Promnui.  

But Surakiart’s politically savvy enough to have spun his candidacy as independent of Thaksin’s fortunes. Earlier this summer, he noted that

“I am an ASEAN candidate, I am not a candidate of Thailand. Leaders of ASEAN have endorsed my candidature in December 2004 and the reason that ASEAN countries decided to put up a candidature early is because we believe in global good governance and transparency. As ASEAN candidate the politics of only one country in ASEAN has no bearing to the candidature as such.”  

So, will Surakiart remain ASEAN’s candidate? Regional observers will be watching closely over the next few days.

“It is therefore not yet appropriate to discuss whether the ASEAN region will put forward another candidate or not,” a [South Korean] government official was quoted as saying by Yonhap News.

Surakiart departed from New York last night, accompanying Prime Minister Thaksin to London. No official statement from his campaign has been made yet.

Ask the Candidates

September 18th, 2006

The organizers of the UNSG Candidates Forum on September 26th invites readers to submit questions which they would like see posed to the candidates. All submissions will be carefully reviewed, and the organizers will identify a a select number to be put to the candidates. (We cannot guarantee any particular question will be asked, of course.)

Questions should be brief, clear and related to the candidate’s background, qualifications, or his or her vision for the United Nations or the office of UNSG. Examples could include:

  • Given the current criticism of the UN for a lack of transparency, what are the key opportunities in the UN system for increased democratic governance while ensuring effective decisionmaking?
  • How would you distinguish between the roles of the Secretary-General and the Deputy SG? What qualifications would you look for in a candidate for DSG? Do you already have anyone in mind for the post?
  • What experiences would you bring to addressing a potential North-South divide?
  • What specific role should the Secretary-General play in promoting achievement of the Millenium Development Goals?
  • Would you accept a nomination to a single seven-year term, as proposed by the Canadian government, to avoid the politicalization that otherwise accompanies seeking re-nomination?

To suggest a question, please complete the following form and click submit. Please limit the number of questions submitted in order to provide others fair access to this opportunity.



Seven. Six.

September 18th, 2006

UPDATE: The Permanent Mission of Afghanistan is stating that they have not been consulted or involved in Ghani’s reported nomination. According to UN procedures, an official letter of nomination is delivered by the Permanent Representative to the President of the Security Council. At this time, it appears that the nomination is not official. More to come…

Ashraf Ghani, former Finance Minister of Afghanistan and current Chancellor of Kabul University, has declared his candidacy for UNSG. This brings the total number of candidates in the race for the high post to seven. Ghani also becomes the second Muslim in the race, joining Prince Zeid of Jordan. invited Draconian Observations, an independent scholar in Denmark who has  followed speculation on Ghani since January, to offer his views on the candidate, which follow below. Your comments regarding Ghani’s background, his qualifications and his chances are encouraged.

Guest Post: Ghani Runs For UNSG and Deserves to Win

September 18th, 2006

Ashraf Ghani has decided to run for UNSG, today’s Financial Times reports. This is good news: Ghani is by far the most interesting candidate in the field. FT quotes him as arguing for the candidature with the exact element other candidates are missing:

“I hope to win, through ideas,” Mr Ghani told the Financial Times. “In the public debate so far, I have yet to see a clear articulation of vision, an analysis of the central issues and a programme for change.”

The problem goes futher than Ghani’s diagnosis: the absence of concrete and strategic visions for the UN is also a sign that the general ability to generate ideas and initiatives later on is probably low. If you cannot get an idea when you need one, you need a different job.

The coming UNSG is faced with a number of challenges, some immediate — operational and organizational — and some more abstract. Ghani’s record in Afghanistan e.g. speaks clearly about his ability for running a multilateral, multi-stakeholder process with both heavy security and development repercussions. Most of the present candidates are of course likely to be solid administrators who can deal with immediate and running operational challenges. But Ghani is furthermore both brave and original: take e.g. this BBC piece about his intervention at last year’s TED global, including a critique of the redundancies of the development and aid industry.

The capacity to deal with the immediate and longer term organizational challenges — the reform agenda — however, is tied up with the more abstract challenges facing the UN. The short version of this is that security and development are converging. In strategic terms, political solutions are needed first to complement globalization’s integrative pull, not least in terms of creating effective states that can allow their citizens to prosper — a long term challenge that, once lifted, will at the same time alleviate the security problems associated with weak and failed states. Second, they are needed to orchestrate globalization as an integration of relations between the ‘old world’ and the ’emerging’ powers and markets — in order to avoid a return to pre-WWI big power politics. In operational terms, enabling effective states is also the emerging necessary goal of any military conflict or post-conflict situation. The new military lessons learned of Phase IV and Peace Operations emphasize the parallel effort of stabilization and reconstruction. At both levels, security and development are increasingly tied to together.

The upshot of this convergence is that the next UNSG must have both practical operational experience with either agenda, and also a calibrated capacity for horizontal thinking. Horizontal thinking is Thomas Barnett’s term for pragmatic agility in terms of eschewing the stove-piped specialization of academics. All bureaucrats tend to think of themselves as productive generalists. But academic ability is crucial: the ability to not only grasp the largest global trends but also to pose productive solution-frameworks is rare among non-academics (as it is among academics in general who falter on the second element, but that is another story).

Ghani’s track-record is well-established here: take e.g. this new piece co-written with Claire Lockhart for the Washington Quarterly. Go read it, and then ask yourself whether you would rather have a person who can think like that at the helm of the UN — or someone who might be bothered to read it?

Ashraf Ghani seems to be the right man for the job. He appears organizationally and intellectually astute enough to deal with the member states’ cross-pressures regarding the reform agenda at both the UN and in development policy. Furthermore, he understands the necessitas of security: that security issues and logics sometimes intrude on ‘regular’ politics and policies, and that this should be if not always heeded then at least willingly mediated. A UNSG without this insight would leave the organization crippled.

Draconian Observations is an independent scholar in Denmark, not affiliated with any organisation or person, and views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of