A UN First After 70 Years: Open Campaigning for Secretary-General
It was a week unprecedented in the history of the United Nations. From April 12 to 14, nine candidates for the office of secretary-general were put on a public stage in front of the world to make their cases as to why they should be elected to follow Ban-Ki-moon when his term ends this year.
There were four women and five men. Because Eastern Europe is demanding that it get a turn to nominate a secretary-general, the majority of the candidates who spoke and were grilled in individual two-hour sessions by UN member governments, organizations and civil society representatives came from that region. Another round of campaign speeches, from candidates yet to be formally declared, is expected in June. A new secretary-general is due to assume office on Jan. 1, 2017.
The opening round of public campaigning is part of a nearly yearlong, significantly reformed process for choosing the UN’s top administrator. Long a demand of numerous governments and civil society groups, the plan was set in motion last September when the General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a more transparent election this year. The world took it seriously: more than 1,000 questions were submitted even before the event began, to be asked of the would-be secretaries-general by a majority of the UN’s 193 member nations, speaking for their governments or regional groups.
A determined Dane, Mogens Lykketoft, the General Assembly president for the crucial 2015-2016 session, has been relentless in bringing the new approach into being. Secretaries-general of the UN have been traditionally chosen through haggling among Security Council members meeting in secret and on their own erratic timetables.
Lykketoft said in his closing remarks to the press that he was surprised that so many member states had showed up for the hearings and that so many questions were asked. Another first: the sessions in the large Trusteeship Council chamber started mostly on time. Lykketoft had in front of him the tiny green, yellow and red “traffic lights,” which were actually followed this time, with a few notable exceptions, unlike the case in other UN events.
Participants in the vast hall remarked on the genuine, enthusiastic appreciation heaped on Lykketoft by candidates and diplomats, as well as the sense of excitement — by diplomatic standards — among the delegations. Many questions may have been predictable and pro forma, but there were pointed exchanges and a few novel suggestions made, among them that the UN should base its deputy secretary-general in Africa (specifically, in Nairobi, Kenya), where so much of the organization’s work takes place and where it has close relations with the African Union.