For the first time in its 70-year history, the United Nations today opened three days of public hearings in a packed chamber, to begin informal briefings with candidates to elect the next Secretary-General for the UN in a ‘new and transparent process’. This is a first time opportunity for substantive and open engagement with the candidates to the full UN membership and the public.
One of the most powerful diplomat positions in the world, the Secretary-General is chosen by the 193-member General Assembly on the recommendation of the 15-member Security Council under the UN charter. Up until now it’s been decided in secret, behind closed doors.
“Much of what we are embarking on today is without precedent at the UN,” General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft stated opening informal dialogues with the candidates.
“For the first time in this organization’s 70-year history, the process for selecting and appointing the next Secretary-General is being genuinely guided by principles of transparency and inclusivity – and the dialogues that we are beginning today are at the very core of this change,” he said.
The UN has taken the unprecedented step of allowing all member nations to question the candidates on relevant issues in an open forum, on things like how they would handle allegations of abuse being carried out by UN Peacekeepers, or day-to-day dealings of how would they would handle powerful world leaders.
He stressed that as the UN grapples with multiple crises and deals with ‘fundamental questions regarding its own role and performance’, finding the best candidate to succeed is ‘absolutely crucial’.
The UN Secretary-General will head a 40,000-plus employees organization with a budget of $10 billion.
Defining some of the qualities in who would be the best person for the job, Lykketoft stressed independence, strong moral authority, great political and diplomatic skills, and some experience in being at the head of a huge administration. A call was opened to submit questions and 70 countries have submitted more than a 1,000 questions which have been reviewed by a civil society committee.
As part of the informal dialogues, each candidate will have a televised and webcast two-hour time slot, starting with a short oral presentation. Representatives from Member States will then ask questions, followed by the President of the General Assembly, who will ask a few of the more than 1,000 questions submitted by the general public on social media.
The three candidates first appearing before the General Assembly are :
Igor Luksic, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration. He is nominated by the Government of Montenegro.
Irina Bokova, currently the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. She is nominated by the Government of Bulgaria.
Antonio Guterres was most recently the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He is nominated by the Government of Portugal.
At the end of the process, Lykketoft said, expressing his personal view, one single candidate could emerge, making it difficult for the Security Council – which is tasked with making the official selection – to choose another candidate.
Calling the process a potential game-changing exercise, he said the informal briefings were part of a very transparent, very interesting discussion about the future of the United Nations.
“If there is a critical mass of countries supporting one single candidate, I don’t think the Security Council will be coming up with quite a different name. But if there are many, many candidates and no clear favorite, it could very well be that the absolute final word will be from the Security Council,” he said.