Archive for September, 2006

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Saturday, September 30th, 2006

Washington Post PostGlobal

This week, the editors of the Washington Post’s PostGlobal feature invited me to provide an overview or “inside scoop” on the Secretary General’s race. To their panel of leading writers, they then posed the following question:

“Who is the right successor to Kofi Annan? Should the U.S. support reliable South Korea, rising India or a troubled Middle East?”

Click on the image above to join the conversation, add your own thoughts and respond to the panel. 

UPDATE: The article/question has now been archived. The first paragraph of the overview is missing from the archived version, but you can download the complete “inside scoop” here.

Dhanapala Withdraws!

Friday, September 29th, 2006

Jayantha Dhanapala, Sri Lanka’s candidate for UNSG, has withdrawn his candidacy.

Following the results of the third ‘straw poll’ in the election of the Secretary-General conducted by the members of the Security Council on Thursday 28 September 2006, the Government of Sri Lanka – with the total agreement of its candidate – has now decided not to further pursue the candidature of Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala in the interest of ensuring a consensus in electing an Asian candidate.

It is the hope of the Government of Sri Lanka that this action will facilitate the election of the emerging most favoured candidate.

One concern raised in explaining the difficulty Dhanapala had in conducting his campaign was the expense. 

Diplomats said the huge costs of running a campaign of travel, lobbying and speaking around the world have handicapped candidates like Dhanapala in the competition with foreign ministers and officials from wealthier countries.

UPDATE (10/1): The Sri Lankan government is now supporting Ban Ki Moon.

The gloves come off

Friday, September 29th, 2006

South Korean candidate Ban Ki Moon is coming under wider criticism for development agreements made by South Korea during the course of his campaign.

Such concerns are not new. Ban, who continues in his day job as minister for trade as well as foreign affairs, has strategically visited each member of the Security Council. Critics point out that soon thereafter, a deal is reached benefiting that government. Ban and the Foreign Ministry of course deny any connection.

Chapter 15 posted early on about Ban’s visits to countries and aid agreements that often followed. Most observers however refrained from commenting, unsure if the agreements were in fact related to Ban’s candidacy or coincidental. Such diplomatic deference is no longer the case.

The Times of London led the charge yesterday, to be followed today by articles in the Washington Post and elsewhere, looking deeper into the timing of the visits and the agreements.  A leading Korean paper sums up the allegations as such:

As examples of “aid diplomacy,” the [Times] cites Korea’s tripling of its aid budget for African countries to US$100 million in February, the tens of thousands of pounds it contributed to sponsoring this year’s African Union summit in the Gambia in July, and its donation of $180 million for an education program in Tanzania, a temporary member of the UN Security Council.

Interesting enough, Latvia’s Vaira Vike-Freiberga – who placed third in yesterday’s straw poll – noted in an interview last April concern over the financial aspects of a competitive UNSG selection process.

“I would hate to see the selection of the secretary general being the sort of a process where candidates run around the world looking for financial supporters, where financial supporters affect the selection process and where votes are bought. It opens up a rather horrifying prospect.”

A spokesman for the South Korean government noted that decisions to increase aid to African and other developing countries was made years ago. But even putting aside poor timing in implementing this pledge, the Times’ list of recipient nations (Tanzania, Slovakia, Greece, Peru and others) since Ban’s announcement in February does bear close resemblance to another list.

Giving Ban the benefit of the doubt, however, it would be informative to see a succint but comprehensive list of countries he has visited since his announcement in February.

Ban slips but holds, Vike Freiberga pushes into third

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

Ban slipped by one vote in today’s straw poll, but maintained an overall strong standing relative to his fellow candidates. Tharoor also held onto second place, but lost two encouragements to the “no opinion” column. 

But it was Latvia’s President Vaira Vike-Frieberga that achieved the surprise victory, pushing past the other challengers to secure an impressive if not strong third place standing. On top of being the only non-Asian in the race, this was an outstanding showing for a candidate that entered the race less than two weeks ago. 

  Encourage Discourage No Opinion
Ban 13 1 1
Tharoor 8 3 4
Vike-Freiberga 7 6 2
Surakiart 5 7 3
Zeid 3 6 6
Ghani 3 6 6
Dhanapala 3 7 5

All other candidates received more discouragements than encouragements, including former third-place holder Surakiart. Nearly half of his former encouragers now firmly discourage his continued candidacy. Even if all those holding “no opinion” were to rally behind him, the beseiged Thai candidate would not secure even the minimum number of votes to win. 

Zeid’s standing was cut in half, losing three of his supporting votes in the last two weeks. Ghani barely eaked out a poor sixth-place showing, and like Zeid, received twice as many discouragements as encouragements.

Dhanapala did even worse this round, not only coming in last again, but picking up two more discouragements. Given their insufficient encouragement plus “no opinion” tallies, he and Surakiart need to honestly reappraise whether to continue.

More analysis and commentary are sure to be forthcoming as we head toward Monday’s color-coded straw poll.

Why I Should Run the U.N.

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

The New York Times asked each candidate for UNSG to respond to two questions in the form of a short op/ed:

First, we asked them to discuss an avoidable mistake the United Nations had made within the last five years. Second, we asked them what major reform they would undertake as secretary general. Five candidates gave us their answers.

Five of the candidates responded (neither Ban nor Surakiart chose to). Read their responses here (opens in new window) then submit your reactions here.  

A Thai Race?

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

Less than 24 hours after reporting that the U.S. was quietly encouraging Surin Pitsuwan, Thailand’s former Foreign Minister, to enter the race, The Nation is now suggesting there is yet another Thai candidate whom the P-5 wish would take Surakiart’s place.

“The person right now being most mentioned and most likely to be recruited as UNSG by [the five permanent Security Council members] is Dr Supachai [Panitchpakdi] who is acceptable to all sides, moderate, and the right mix of outsider and insider,” the source said.

Supachai is the secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad). He was previously head of the World Trade Organisation.

So which is it? Pitsuwan or Supachai? 

Pitsuwan, said to be “taking [the rumor] with a big grain of salt,” noted that he had not be approached “directly” by Washington, but has made it known that he wants an international position. Supachai, on the other hand, is reportedly one of the top two candidates to replace Thaksin as interim prime minister. 

The Nation has editoralized against Surakiart, and perhaps these rumors are wishful suggestions on their part. At this point, all that can be said is what has been – that the coup has complicated Surakiart’s campaign. Nonetheless, the interim government is sticking behind Surakiart, having put together a 13-member campaign team to assist him.

In Bangkok, efforts to prevent ex-deputy premier Surakiart Sathirathai’s return to New York and to get Sonthi to distance the Council of Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) from his candidacy, appeared to have failed as the CDRM yesterday issued an order designating Foreign Minister’s deputy permanent-secretary Sihasak Puangketkoew, to be team leader in assisting Surakiart’s campaign.

Straw polls Thursday, Monday

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

A compromise has apparently been reached between the American and British delegations, the former insisting on color-coded ballots in the next straw poll and the latter wanting to hold off.

The decision? Hold two straw polls.  

The first straw poll will be held Thursday at 4:00pm and will not differentiate between permanent and elected members. Next Monday, another straw poll will be held using color-coded ballots to do just that. (The time of Monday’s poll has yet to be announced by the incoming Japanese presidency.)

Ah, those crafty diplomats. How do they do it?

Will the Philippines break with ASEAN?

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

Philippines Foreign Secretary Alberto RomuloThis week, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo indicated she would support a campaign by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto G. Romulo if he decided to enter the race for UNSG. The nomination is being urged by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, the Chair of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, who feels that the Thai coup has irreparably damaged Surakiart’s chances.

The senator pointed out that President Arroyo was amenable to the Romulo nomination during the Friday meeting between her and the Chief Executive in Malacanang.

“President Arroyo said that if the idea is attractive to Romulo, then the Philippines could start a serious campaign. It is timely, because early birds in the nomination process are usually overtaken by a dark horse,” she said.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita noted that the President would support a Romulo campaign if he decided to enter the race, but that the decision would be made by Romulo, not the government.

“We do not know the personal preference of Secretary Romulo. If he’s disposed towards approving the proposal, of course the President will support him. But we really have to discuss this, even with him,” Ermita said in a press conference.

Ermita said the President’s support for Romulo hinges on the latter’s own decision on the issue.

At the same time, Ermita expressed misgivings about Romulo’s chances of getting the top UN post due to the short period of time that the Philippines would be left to campaign for the post in case Romulo decides to push through with it.

It would be ironic if Romulo decided to jump into the race, considering it was he who announced ASEAN’s continuing support for Surakiart after an ASEAN ministerial meeting last week.

The U.S. drops a name

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

The Bangkok-based The Nation is reporting that the United States is pushing for Surakiart’s predeccesor to enter the race for UNSG. While the report is yet unconfirmed, it introduces a new twist to Surakiart’s beseiged campaign at a time when the military government, which announced continued support for Surakiart, is slowing losing the international PR battle.

The United States is poised to propose former foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan as the next UN secretary-general to replace Kofi Annan later this year, an informed source said yesterday.

The message has been relayed to coup leader General Sonthi Boon-yaratglin but Thailand remained tight-lipped, taking a wait-and-see approach at least until after the next straw vote among the 15-member UN Security Council (UNSC) in New York.

While the source suggests that the U.S. feels other permanent members – read, China – would also support Surin, the suggestion is likely based more in the U.S.’s own interests.

…Washington still thinks Surin is a better choice – because he is seen as a person better able to bridge the gap of misunderstanding between the West and the Muslim world.

As the report notes, Surin is a moderate Muslim and former foreign minister. He is also likely to be seen as “more” Asian than Washington’s reported other preferred choice, Prince Zeid of Jordan. Likewise, he may be more acceptable to China than Ashraf Ghani, given Afghanistan’s close ties to the United States.

Britain: Not just yet…

Wednesday, 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.”