First-ever hearings to pick world's top diplomat

2016-04-12 20:00
UN Secretary General candidate Igor Luksic. (AP)

UN Secretary General candidate Igor Luksic. (AP)

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New York - The United Nations on Tuesday opened the first-ever hearings of candidates seeking to become the next secretary general, lifting some of the secrecy surrounding the choice for the world's top diplomat.

Over the next three days, eight contenders are expected to take the podium before the General Assembly's 193 nations to lay out their vision for the job and answer questions.

The hearings are part of a broad push for transparency in the selection of Ban Ki-moon's successor, who will lead an organisation of 40 000-plus employees with a budget of $10bn.

For decades, the choice of the UN chief has been firmly in the hands of the Security Council and its five permanent members - Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States - in a process largely kept behind closed doors.

But the General Assembly in September voted to shake up the process, asking candidates to send a formal application letter, present their resumes and appear at hearings.

The final decision to nominate a candidate still rests with the Security Council, but the new openness is seen as pressuring big powers to pick a nominee with broader appeal.

"This is a potentially game-changing exercise," General Assembly president Mogens Lykketoft told reporters.

"If there is a critical mass of countries supporting one single candidate, I don't think we will see the Security Council coming up with quite a different name."

Montenegro's Foreign Minister Igor Luksic - at 39, the youngest of the candidates - was up first, switching from English to French in his address that touched on his Balkan roots and appeals for stronger efforts to help the world's youth.

"I understand the modern-day challenges," said Luksic.

Two strong contenders - the head of cultural agency Unesco Irina Bokova and former high commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres - then had their opportunity to woo diplomats during their two-hour sessions.

 First woman at UN helm? 

In July, the Security Council will hold a first round of straw polls to measure support for the candidates.

Final polling is expected to take place in September, when the 15-member council will submit one nominee to the General Assembly, which is expected to endorse the choice.

Security Council members are facing calls to pick the first woman after eight men in the job, and to give preference to a candidate from eastern Europe, the only region that has yet to be represented in the top post.

Russia has said that the next UN chief should come from that region and six eastern European countries have put forward candidates.

On Wednesday, the assembly will hear Slovenia's former president Danilo Turk, Croatia's former foreign minister Vesna Pusic and Natalia Gherman, the former foreign minister of Moldova.

The head of the UN Development Programme and New Zealand's former prime minister Helen Clark will speak on Thursday as will Macedonia's former foreign minister Srgjan Kerim.

More candidates are expected to come forward, including two women seen as potential frontrunners - EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria and Argentina's Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra.

Asked about speculation that German Chancellor Angela Merkel could make a run for the top job, the General Assembly president appeared dubious.

"I would be surprised if that happened," Lykketoft said.

The new secretary-general will begin work on January 1 2017.

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