Archive for July, 2006

Who doesn’t like Ban?

Friday, July 28th, 2006

It did not take long after the results from Monday’s straw poll were leaked that speculation became rampant among insiders. South Korea’s Ban Ki Moon‘s results no doubt drew the most speculation: who cast that sole discouraging vote?

Early spec strongly suggested Japan, as Ban’s government strongly opposed a permanent seat for Japan last year and tensions have been high lately between the two governments. Of course, others strongly suspected China of being the lone dissenter, worried that the ROK was too closely aligned with U.S. interests.

But, this is too interesting a race to settle for such obvious speculation… 

James Bone with the London Times offers a tantalizing rumor.

“My sources tell me that one ballot paper had “discourage” votes against all four candidates. Diplomats assume this was [U.S. Ambassador John] Bolton‘s ballot… [This] means that it was Bolton – and not China, for instance – who cast the sole negative vote against South Korean foreign minister Ban Ki-Moon.”

A little fact-checking with an informed source at the UN suggests that this is very plausible, but cannot be confirmed given the anonymity of the vote itself.

In addition to the none-of-the-above ballot, there was reportedly a single ballot with four checkmarks next to “No Opinion.” Speculation among ambassadors is that this ballot was cast by the UK’s Sir Emyr Jones Parry, but that is being denied by unnamed British sources. It might also have been “China, keeping its powder dry,” writes Bone, though “a more likely scenario is that it was a junior council ambassador who just did not have instructions on how to vote.”

But regardless of how you count the votes, Ban secured the encouragement of least two permanent members, a victory no other candidate can claim.

A Case for Secretary General Bolton

Friday, July 28th, 2006

A recent story may have surprised many observers, even if welcomed by advocates of gender rotation, such as U.S. Ambassador John Bolton:

Angelina Jolie To Succeed Kofi Annan
UNITED NATIONS …  – Following American ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton’s suggestion that an outsider – and a woman – should be the United Nation’s next secretary general, the predominantly male-dominated General Assembly voted unanimously for Angelina Jolie.

Of course, the story was a parody, but it provided surprisingly accurate details on the selection process – Bolton’s comments, appointment by the GA, a field of four candidates led by the South Korean foreign minister, etc. – for an audience that might not otherwise be engaged on the race.

But the search for Annan’s successor made the late-night “big time” with Stephen Colbert‘s suggestion that Ambassador Bolton should be the next UNSG. The Colbert Report (pronounced coal-BARE re-POUR, with silent T’s) is an American show known for its satirical lampooning of ideologically right American talk shows and for hilarious interviews with authors, celebrities and even Members of the U.S. Congress. 

Colbert’s case for a Bolton-led Secretariat?  Well…. just watch and decide for yourself.


(video courtesy of

Ban takes 1st Straw Poll

Monday, July 24th, 2006

South Korean candidate Ban Ki Moon led in “enouragements” today in the first straw poll for UNSG, with Tharoor, Surakiart following and Dhanapala in last place.

Encourage Discourage No Opinion
Ban 12 1 2
Tharoor 10 2 3
Surakiart 7 3 5
Dhanapala 5 6 4

Each government signaled its preferences by marking on secret ballots whether they would “encourage” each candidate, “discourage” him, or had “no opinion.” Ban and Tharoor were informed in person and Dhanapala and Surakiart were phoned by Security Council President Jean-Marc de La Sabliere with their individual tallies and the highest and lowest tallies. Despite being asked afterward in several different ways, Ambassador de La Sabliere refused to officially reveal the results, but jokingly told reporters that,

“To be sure anonymity is respected, we all had the same pen… So no one can know exactly…”

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton noted in speaking with reporters that there was no differentiation in the voting between permanent and non-permanent members, a rule he suggested nonetheless “is not neccesarily true for future straw polls.” 

Bolton commented that the four candidates would now be able to judge whether to continue in the race and others who may be considering joining the race may do so. On the question of regional rotation, Bolton suggested that President Bush was merely stating “the common wisdom” last week, that the U.S. position on regional rotation was “unchanged” and that “…now it’s up to candidates whether they are from Asia or from other regions to make a decision whether to have a member government put their name forward.” 

Bolton stepped back from his comments Friday that stating the U.S. preference would be a “kiss of death,” saying instead that “to give an indication really may or may not advantage the candidate(s) that we most favor.”

The only names considered today were those which had received a formal nomination by a member government. A source at the French mission mentioned that Niranjan Deva, a member of the European Parliament but with strong ties to Sri Lanka, attempted to get a meeting with Ambassador de la Sabliere as President of the Security Council, but was firmly rebuffed.

No reaction yet from Surakiart or Dhanapala’s campaigns. Surakiart’s endorsement by ASEAN was reaffirmed just this week, and Dhanapala has been considered a “rising star” hoping to recruit UK Prime Minister Tony Blair to help “inject the kind of passion” needed in promoting the UN. 

Another straw poll will not take place until late August, noted the French official, also adding that “We would like to see new candidates before then.” 


Kiss of Death

Sunday, July 23rd, 2006

The political aspects of the UNSG selection process have traditionally discouraged candidates and governments alike from speaking about their interests. Though this year’s process can be characterized as the most open for candidates, governments are still reticient about sharing their preferences in any more than the most general terms. This is especially true for the P5 members.

The ThinkProgress blog posted a short clip of U.S. Ambassador John Bolton speaking about the next UNSG on the American FOX network on Friday. In response to the host’s question about whom Ambassador Bolton feels the nominee should be, he responded

Bolton: Well, if I told you who we thought the best candidate would be, it would probably be the kiss of death for that person. …this is a very important decision, in all seriousness. We’ve been working hard on it throughout the year. We hope for an early decision maybe late September.

Theoretically, this warning could apply to all P5 member states. But the ability of the U.S. to extend its influence unilaterally makes its preferences for the top UN officeholder particularly vunerable to rejection by other states.

UPDATE, July 24th: Ambassador Bolton told National Public Radio that the U.S. is looking for “…someone who will be the chief administrative officer. I’ve described the ideal candidate as a proletarian, somebody who will work in the system, who will get his or her fingernails dirty and really manage the place, which is what it needs.”

Surakiart campaign attacked over human rights report

Saturday, July 22nd, 2006

The Asian Human Rights Commission, an NGO monitoring human rights issues in Asia, has denounced the Thai government’s support for Dr. Surakiart’s campaign as “immoral and dishonest” following a UN report that the government’s granting of immunity for security forces engaged in “counter-insurgency” efforts in southern Thailand violates the government’s obligations under international human rights law.

“It is offensive to think that the Thai government is wasting its national budget promoting a man for the top UN job who has held a senior position throughout a time that it has consistently flouted international law and snubbed the best efforts of UN officials to improve human rights in its country,” Basil Fernando, executive director of the AHRC, said.

“It is an affront to the international community that such a person would even be put forward for the position,” Fernando said.  

The statement came after Philip Aston, the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, said some of the emergency decree’s provisions violate the government’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, barring “any measures cutting back on the legal safeguards surrounding the right to life” even during emergencies.

Surakiart’s website describes his discussions in May with several Muslim students from the country’s southern, Muslim-majority provinces on his outreach to the Thai Muslim population.  

As Deputy Prime Minister overseeing foreign affairs, Dr. Surakiart conveyed to the students of their important role in reinforcing the work of the Foreign Ministry in intensifying cooperation with the Muslim community. He expounded his views on learning to live with differences in promoting a culture of peace and harmony. He gave an account of the various initiatives he had undertaken in reaching out to the Muslim community in Thailand and the world. Such initiatives include the establishment of the Islamic Bank, and linking the curriculum of Al-Azhar with universities in southern Thailand. 

Next week, Surakiart is scheduled to attend ASEAN’s meeting in Kuala Lumpur, during which he is expected to lobby for support from Chinese and Japanese officials.


Nirj Online

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

Ambassador Niranjan Deva-Aditya, who has been leading a personal campaign to become the next UNSG, has launched a campaign website at SriLankanforUNSG.commirroring similar online campaigns by Surakiart Sathirathai, Jayantha Dhanapala and, to a limited extent, Shashi Tharoor.

Update, July 20th: Deva’s assistant alerted that the site is not in fact published by Deva, but rather by his supporters in Sri Lanka. (Whois info)

“We would be grateful if you would make it clear that the Sri Lankan website to which you refer is not Niranjan’s website… The Sri Lankan website has been set up by some of his many supporters in Sri Lanka, but Niranjan cannot accept responsibility for what they say.”

Deva does have the background to be an ideal UNSG, even if he is not an ideal UNSG candidate. His accomplishments in areas of sustainable development, humanitarian assistance and European-Asian relations are remarkable. His own cosmopolitan heritage speaks well to what the post of UNSG should reflect, if it were not for the major powers or the existing selection process.

But the claim made on the website that Deva “has been nominated by the former Prime Ministers of France and Poland as a candidate for UN Secretary-General” is simply misleading. The use of the term “nomination” has a specific meaning – support by a sitting government – and that, Deva does not have. What he does have are letters of support from FORMER prime ministers (each of whom are now colleagues of Deva in the European Parliament). Endorsements by FORMER foreign leaders, yes; nominations, no.

Similar to Surakiart‘s campaign, Deva’s supporters claim broad support from foreign leaders – confusing diplomatic politeness for political backing. Devas has been cordially received in many capitals and by many officials. Even Shashi Tharoor, India’s nominee for UNSG, praised Deva’s credentials mere days before his own campaign for the post was made official. Yet despite his credentials and experience, Deva has not and is not likely to receive an official nomination, for two reasons:

  1. The government from which he most needs a nomination – Sri Lanka – has formally backed Jayantha Dhanapala, and that is not likely to change.
  2. Despite his heritage and unquestionable strong ties to Sri Lanka, Deva is also not only a British citizen, but an elected British REPRESENTATIVE in the European Parliament. Perhaps he has a better chance than Tony Blair at getting the nod, but his ties to a permanent member state will still likely knock him off many governments’ short-lists.

Regardless of talking points to the contrary, these are, while political, still very real obstacles to a nomination.

Deva does have one (long) shot. If the straw polls to be taken this month reveal low support for Dhanapala, Deva may be able to get a more supportive hearing from the Sri Lankan government. But if and until that occurs, the official “SriLankanforUNSG” remains Dhanapala.

Goh v. Surakiart in the G-77

Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

Rumors that members of the G-77 may move to nominate Singapore’s former prime minister Goh Chok Tong during the group’s meeting next week in New York prompted quick responses from both Thailand and Singapore yesterday.

Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said… “What is clear is that Thailand’s candidate is backed by Asean and we will move ahead with that,” he said in a telephone interview with the media from Washington where he is on an official visit to the US.

Likewise, the Singapore foreign ministry issued reassurances that Thai UNSG candidate Surakiart Sathirathai continued to have the full support of the Singapore government.

Singapore’s Foreign Ministry stated categorically on Wednesday that the Singapore government supports Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiat Sathirathai’s candidature for the post of the next United Nations Secretary General. It said the government formally expressed its support in writing for Mr Surakiat’s candidature in August 2004. And in September 2004, Singapore joined other ASEAN countries in endorsing his candidature at the informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in New York.

A nomination with the backing of the G-77 – which now includes 133 member governments, including all 10 members of ASEAN – is not likely. The organization will tread softly, perhaps taking the same path as the Non-Aligned Movement in firmly committing to an Asian nominee but not restricting its members to vote for a particular candidate. However, if a significant number of G-77 members merely encourage Goh to enter the race, Surakiart’s chances would be furthered strained than they are now.

Asia…from Ban to Zeid

Tuesday, July 11th, 2006

Welcome to readers clicking over from the Washington Post’s new PostGlobal feature. PostGlobal highlighted this week as part of its “experiment in global, collaborative journalism” to engage new writers and journalists on global issues beyond the headlines.    

Close observers of the U.S. foreign policy team will not be surprised if Ambassador John Bolton brings up the selection of the next UNSG when he next speaks before the U.S. Congress. President Bush’s revelation yesterday that the United States is “really looking in the Far East right now [for someone] to be the secretary-general” could trigger Bolton’s penchant for running to Congress when the Adminstration tries to rope him into a position he doesn’t particularly approve of. Bolton’s principal contribution to the discussion thus far has been his frequently stated view that Eastern Europe deserves a “turn” at the post.

If Bush’s focus is indeed on the Far East, that may signal the government’s interest in either Ban (more likely) or Surakiart (less likely) over Dhanapala and Tharoor. With all due respect, however, this presumes a clear differentiation in Bush’s mind of the diverse regions within Asia (which in UN terms, extends from Jordan to Japan). When asked about the long-rumored potential candidacy of Prince Zeid from Jordan, Bush seemed surprised, but responded that he would not be opposed to a moderate Muslim as UNSG.

“So this is the first I`ve heard of this suggestion [Zeid as a candidate]. And you`ll find that we will work closely with friends and allies to come up with the best candidate, but we won`t be committing publicly, like you`re trying to get me to do,” Bush said stressing that he will not be against a Muslim candidate.

“Not at all, would not be against a Muslim. The criterion I`m for is somebody who wants to spread liberty and enhance the peace, do difficult things like confront tyranny, worry about the human condition, blow the whistle on human rights violations,” he said.

Beyond the rhetoric, a moderate Muslim as UNSG could advance U.S. interests in repairing its image across the world, as was suggested by Steve Clemons several months ago. Whether this is Zeid or perhaps a candidate from a “Far East” Muslim nation such as Indonesia, Malaysia or Bangladesh makes this more than an interesting hypothetical angle. China’s continued discontent with the existing field of candidates but insistence on an Asian nominee only further encourages discussion of possible Muslim candidates.

But the candidacy of a Muslim Arab would be particularly intriguing in how the United Nations and, in its reaction, the United States are perceived in the Arab world. Likewise, the nomination of an Arab candidate will draw attention to Arab governments as global actors.

After the Iraq war, the Arab public has viewed the United Nation as an organization which is powerless and lacks the will and muscle to control world affairs in general and the interests of Arab states in particular. Given this scenario, the nomination of an Arab for the post of UN secretary-general can send the right message to the Arab region. This can also herald a paradigm shift in the way Arab states envisage their role in multilateral institutions.

Notwithstanding the nominal independence of the office, a moderate Muslim as UNSG could encourage greater Arab engagement in institutions such as the International Criminal Court and bring attention to their contributions in development and humanitarian efforts. Successful efforts would feedback into Western perceptions of more culturally, politically diverse societies in the Arab and predominantly Muslim countries.  

Despite Bolton’s convictions, the U.S. appears ready to get behind an Asian nominee and could benefit from the region’s vast expanse as to how that is defined. So, the question to raise becomes, where is China on this?

For China, what does “Asian” mean?

Follow up on this month’s process

Monday, July 10th, 2006

The Security Council Report (SCR) has provided a further analysis of this month’s process following Ambassador de La Sablière‘s briefing last Wednesday. It looks at the letter submitted de La Sablière to UNGA President Jan Eliasson and notes several differences from the previously discussed “Wisnumurti Guidelines” (from 1996) and some of the initial interpretations of de La Sablière’s announcement.

The formal decision that candidates must be nominated by a member state will upset the commonly held wisdom that a dark horse will steal the nomination from those publicly known in advance. This should appease Canada, India and other middle powers concerned about the General Assembly’s inability to properly evaluate the Security Council nominee. 

However, the logistics of the voting will, while pushing the process in an overall positive direction, obscure each candidate’s level of support among the permanent members where it counts most. The decision to allow member states to abstain from indicating their support may allow second- and third-choice candidates to survive the initial rounds, but will also allow permanent members to mask their true preferences. The polling will be further complicated by the decision not to differentiate – as in the Wisnumurti Guidelines – between permanent and elected members in the voting. This will hide from the candidates the true political value of their vote tally.

That the candidates will be told their vote tallies and the tallies of the highest and lowest vote getters is a encouraging reform, but likely merely a response by the Council to the number of openly campaigning Asian candidates. In SCR’s consideration,

“…such an approach is most likely to contribute to a voluntary narrowing of the field. The indicative scores, given privately to candidates, along with the anonymous “highest” and “lowest” scores, are likely to show candidates if they have any realistic chance of success.”

The vote tallies will not officially be made public, but with a small number of candidates, it will probably not be too difficult for the sponsoring governments to interpret where their candidates fell in the ranking.

Four strikes and you’re…

Saturday, July 8th, 2006

Pakistan continues to have difficulty finding someone willing to be its nationalist champion against India’s Shashi Tharoor.

It’s latest candidate-to-be-named, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, has not yet received the reassurances that Islamabad would provide her the necessary support to effectively challenge Tharoor for the post of UNSG. Tharoor was formally nominated as a candidate on Thursday and has begun his campaign in Africa.

To date, Pakistan has leaked the names of four officials who were being considered.

  • Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz – would prefer to stay on as Prime Minister until 2012. (Maybe he’ll challenge Ramos-Horta?)
  • UN Ambassador Munir Akram – does not want to give up his seat at the UN just yet
  • Former UNFPA Director Dr. Nafis Sadik – has told friends she has no interest in the post
  • Ambassador to the UK Maleeha Lodhi – ??

Lodhi’s name was raised as a possibility after, one by one, the others declined the honor and after it was reported that Pakistan had given up and would instead back one of Tharoor’s current challengers.

Considering the difficulty Pakistan is having with finding one of its own to challenge Tharoor, the government might want to revisit that option.