Confusing candidates and countries

September 17th, 2006

In many ways, particularly in the media’s coverage, this year’s selection has been marked by nationalistic fervor to a degree which even the candidates have tried to dissuade. One candidate has personally communicated with apologetic concern that some commenters on this site have made this race about “…national aspirations. I don’t encourage this kind of thinking.”

Ayca Ariyoruk, who has interviewed almost all of the candidates, has noted how this is impacting the race. 

“Another matter that should be revised is the habit of linking the candidates to their nationality. It diverts the attention from the candidates and their qualities to national politics. …Thus, when interviewing the candidates, the challenge was to keep the focus on their qualities rather than on the political standing of their countries.  

Chapter 15 has an insightful summation of this and its implications for those candidates – all well-intentioned and conscientious individuals – who do not prevail at year’s end and for their countries.

“One of the things that has been striking to us throughout this race is the level of national pride and identity associated with the candidates in this race. The South Korean, Indian, and Sri Lankan press, especially, has fallen in love with the candidates. And, to a substantial extent, their publics have also. The low esteem that the Thai government is in with both its public and its media explains Sathirathai’s support.

“Unfortunately, this close identification with candidates has resulted in publics’ mood following the fortunes of the candidates. For Dhanapala and the Sri Lankans, this is quite serious. The country is at a very serious point, with the peace process — Dhanapala’s peace process — collapsing. The mood of Sri Lankans that we encounter has been deeply impacted by this.

“Furthermore, it is important for the publics to realize that this is not an indictment of their countries. If Shashi Tharoor loses, as it seems he will, this is not an indictment of India. Indeed, the question of whether Singh’s nomination of Tharoor is a blunder will likely be revisited. For the Sri Lankans, they need to understand that Dhanapala’s failings are not their own. They nominated an old man who did not impress people. This is not a statement about Sri Lanka.”

A sad truth, and well said.

Who likes Ban?

September 16th, 2006

A good deal of speculation following the two straw polls has surrounded the lone discouraging vote for Ban Ki Moon.

With one discouraging vote, the concern is that Ban’s candidacy could yet be sunk by a veto from one of the permanent members – either China, or as has arisen recently, perhaps the United States.

What may be being overlooked, however, is who is encouraging Ban’s candidacy…and one possibility – suggested by a source close to this blog – is intriguing.

Removing one of the permanent members from the list of encouraging governments leaves us with the surprising possibility that Ban has secured the support of all five Security Council members who are also members of the Non-Aligned Movement – Congo, Ghana, Peru, Qatar, Tanzania. If this is true, it means that while Surakiart, Dhanapala, Zeid and Tharoor’s PM were lobbying hard in Havana, Ban had already locked up the votes from those members who really count in this regard.

What if Ban didn’t lock up this support, and that lone discouraging vote came from a NAM member? Well… that leaves only one other conclusion.

Vīķe-Freiberga enters Race!

September 16th, 2006

Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga has become the sixth candidate and first female to enter the race to succeed Kofi Annan. She was jointly nominated by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

In a statement issued after the nomination, Vīķe-Freiberga addressed the questions unique to her campaign – being a female candidate and an East European.

The time has come for a woman to be taken seriously as a candidate for this prestigious position. General Assembly Resolution 51/241, adopted in 1997, requires that in the selection process due regard be given to gender equality… Half of humankind has never been represented at the helm of the UN.

…as a result of historical events in the 20th Century, the Secretary General of the UN has never come from the Eastern European group… We do not accept the principle of regional rotation as the principal and sole factor in the selection of a candidate. While I deeply respect the candidates that have already been nominated, the selection procedure should not restrict the rights and opportunities of other potential candidates. I hope that the choice made by the Security Council and the General Assembly will be based solely on the candidates’ qualifications, personal qualities and vision of the future of the UN.

Vīķe-Freiberga has been considered a candidate strongly supported by the United States in its search for an East European nominee. But she is considered unselectable given her outspoken criticism of Russia and that government’s firm position against choosing an East European.

What is Vīķe-Freiberga’s campaign strategy? There have already been two straw polls, with consistent results showing strong support for Ban. The other five candidates are all Asian and a majority of governments has firmly stated their committments to backing only an Asian nominee. A decision is likely within the next month, if not sooner, providing little time for her to campaign.

April 2006 Interview with the Center for UN Reform Education >>

Clip from the January 2006 Davos meeting with Vīķe-Freiberga, Ban and Dhanapala.

Update: A press conference on the nomination will take place on Monday, 18 September, at 10:30am in the Morrison Room of Hotel Benjamin, 125 East 50th Street, New York. For more information, please call 212-838-8877, 917-8604235 or e-mail


Garrick Utley to moderate UNSG Candidates Forum

September 15th, 2006

The moderator for the September 26th Candidates Forum will be Mr. Garrick Utley, President of the Levin Graduate Institute of International Relations and Commerce at SUNY and co-host of “America Abroad” on Public Radio, a program which examines the United States’ role and relationships in the world. 

For forty years Mr. Utley worked as a broadcast journalist on NBC, ABC, CNN, as well as Public Radio and Public Television, with a primary focus on international affairs. He also served as anchor of the weekend editions of NBC Nightly News from 1971-1973, and again from 1988-1993. He was the host of several network magazine programs, the Sunday edition of Today, and the moderator of Meet The Press.

Utley has received several of broadcast journalism’s most respected honors, including the Overseas Press Club’s Edward R. Murrow award, and the George Foster Peabody award. He is the author of the book: “You Should Have Been Here Yesterday” (PublicAffairs, 2000), a narrative of the growth of television news in the United States.

Full biography >> 

More information on the Candidates Forum >>

Third Straw Poll?

September 14th, 2006

Given the strong showing by Ban in today’s straw poll, could the Security Council find the results sufficiently indicative to move to formal voting?

Both Ambassadors Wang and Bolton have stated their preferences for a formal vote by mid-October, but Security Council President Vassilakis has suggested that a vote could take place by the end of this month.

“I believe if we vote we will have a decision by the end of the month,” he said. “For the Sri Lankan it’s not worth it to continue and the others have too many discouragements in order to go ahead. I believe that whoever is coming in now, it’s too late.”

If members decide to continue under the agreed programme, there will be a third straw poll on September 28th.

Ban firms up lead in second Straw Poll

September 14th, 2006

South Korean candidate Ban Ki Moon reportedly secured stronger support in this morning’s second straw poll for UNSG. Tharoor, Surakiart and Zeid followed respectively, and Dhanapala again finished in last place, again the only candidate to get more “discouragements” than “encouragements.”

  Encourage Discourage No Opinion
Ban 14 1 0
Tharoor 10 3 2
Surakiart 9 3 3
Zeid 6 4 5
Dhanapala 3 5 7

Zeid‘s fourth place showing is a surprise, considering the reception his nomination received from diplomats when announced last week. Davide Barretta pointed out yesterday many of Zeid’s strengths as a candidate perfectly suited to slip past the others and rise to the top of the list. Among them are his perception as “technically Asian, but foreign to the intense regional rivalries.” A expert on the UN suggested to me that the showing may be related to whether other governments do indeed accept Zeid as Asian. As with Dhanapala, his age may also be a factor – at 42, he would be the youngest UNSG if selected.

Tharoor picked up one more vote… in the discouragement column. He maintained his second-place finish with 10 encouraging votes.

In contrast, Surakiart‘s picked up two more encouragements, giving him the “magic number” of 9 votes necessary to win (if he received no vetos). Given this, we can well expect to see Surakiart remain in the race. Could he be wooing the NAM summit in Havana? Even so, could this gain be a false impression, particularly after PM Thaksin’s remarks after speaking with UK and French diplomats at the ASEM summit?

Sri Lanka’s Dhanapala, on the other hand, had three votes – two formerly encouraging, one discouraging – shift over to the “no opinion” column. How to read this? Either he is no longer seen as a serious candidate either way or he’s the archtypical “compromise” candidate. Against the other candidates’ numbers, however, the former seems most likely. The fact that he is 67 – two years older than the official UN retirement age – has been cited as one reason for his poor showings.

Ban’s tally again places him in the unique position of being the one candidate who can claim with certainty permanent member support – 4 of the five in fact. Speculation again will arise as to whether that lone dissenter is Japan (without a veto) or China, whose veto could sink Ban’s candidacy despite his otherwise unanimous support. Or could it be another government entirely?

The NAM Primary

September 12th, 2006

In the U.S., presidential hopefuls become their party’s official candidate through a series of caucuses or primaries around the country. Though not exact, a similar process could be said to have accompanied the campaigning for UNSG, with candidates attending intergovernmental summits around the world to gain the support of “voters” (i.e., governments).

This week, the Non-Aligned Movement‘s summit is underway in Cuba, and the 116-member alliance – representing nearly 2/3 of the UN General Assembly – is an attractive forum for UNSG candidates to firm up support. This is not just populist outreach – 1/3 of the Security Council are members of the NAM (Congo, Ghana, Peru, Qatar and Tanzania). 

Thai candidate Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai will be in attendance. Surkiart’s campaign is banking on continued support from ASEAN, despite his own Prime Minister’s remarks following participation in the ASEM summit that Surakiart has only a “50/50” chance of being selected. The shift in tone is telling. It could well signal that Surakiart’s campaign did not receive the reaffirmation it was hoping for during the ASEM summit and of the government’s acceptance of Surakiart’s impending defeat.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be attending, in large part, to lobby on behalf of India’s candidate Shashi Tharoor. The Indian government considers the summit “a major opportunity…to mobilise support” for Tharoor, according to officials.

The Jordanian mission noted that Prince Zeid will also attend the summit in Havana. Most observers consider Zeid a strong candidate and a significant challenge to South Korea’s Ban Ki Moon and India’s Shashi Tharoor, the leading candidates based on their straw poll tallies in July. Zeid secured strong backing from Arab foreign ministers last week and could well catch up with the candidates in fast order, particularly if he is able to use the NAM summit to his advantage. One government he is sure to reach out to is China, which will hold observer status at the summit.  

Surprisingly, there is no mention in the media of whether Sri Lanka’s Jayantha Dhanapala will be participating. He had participated in the alliance’s meeting last May, but that was prior to the July 24th straw poll in which he came in last, actually receiving more “discouragements” than “encouragements.” One would think he would be there to firm up his support.

Update: Mr. Dhanapala will be participating at the NAM summit, assisting the President of Sri Lanka in his capacity as Senior Adviser. According to the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry, he will be meeting a cross section of representatives from NAM member states to discuss his campaign for UNSG.

Hold the Date: Sept 26th

September 9th, 2006 is pleased to be partnering with Bridging Nations in the planning and promotion of the following event:


Waldorf-Astoria • New York, NY
26 September 2006

Bridging Nations will be hosting a first ever forum to bring together all declared candidates for Secretary General of the United Nations and provide them with an open and public venue to discuss their distinct agendas for the future of the United Nations.

The Candidates Forum will build on the unprecedented transparency of this year’s selection process and provide an opportunity for the world public to learn more about those individuals seeking this high post.

Former Canadian Ambassador Allan Rock, speaking before the UN Correspondents Association in May, remarked, “…[T]his past February, in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum managed to get persons who identify themselves as candidates [for UNSG] onto a stage in front of an international audience to talk about their approach to the job.  Well if the World Economic Forum can do it, why can’t the General Assembly of the United Nations?”   

For more information on the Candidates Forum, contact Julio Martinez at Bridging Nations by email at or phone at 202-741-3875. 

Deva officially not in the race

September 9th, 2006

The Fiji government has clarified the intent of a letter from its foreign minister to the President of the Security Council which the Deva campaign insisted was an official nomination.

In a word: No.

Fiji said on Friday it never intended to sponsor a British member of the European Parliament as a candidate for U.N. secretary-general, thereby eliminating him from the race, the council’s president said.


Vassilakis said Fiji had now refuted the letter from Foreign Minister Kaliopate Tavola, distributed to the 15 Security Council members on Wednesday.

Instead Fiji’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Filimone Kau, said in a note that “the letter presented to the council was not intended for the purpose of an official nomination by the Government of Fiji but was rather meant to support his candidacy,” Vassilakis said.

The confusion continues…

September 8th, 2006

The confusion over whether British MEP Nirj Deva has received a formal nomination from the government of Fiji continues. His campaign maintains that the July 18th letter from Foreign Minister Kaliopate Tavola trumps the recent letter from Ambassador Isikia Savua, which stated that any report of a nomination by Fiji was “to be disregarded.”

According to one report, the President of the Security Council has been unable to resolve the confusion.

Vassilakis said he had just received the packet of letters directly from Deva, which he said violated procedures.

“I don’t know what to do with him,” Vassilakis said, adding he was attempting to clarify the issue.

“The confusion is that the paper has not been submitted to the council by the Fiji UN mission, which is the proper procedure,” Vassilakis said.

“There should be a letter from the foreign minister and then the mission should send another letter to the president of the council submitting the letter of the foreign minister,” he said. “We did not have that.”

The President of the Security Council is attempting to resolve the confusion, but the Devas campaign does not appear to be helping in that regard. Inquiries from campaign observers are met with accusatory and sarcastic remarks anonymously or from an unnamed person, often twisting provisions of the UN Charter or official communiques to defend their position.

Hmm… I wonder how Prince Zeid’s week is going?