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The next UN Secretary-General election is just around the corner

The NCH Academic Blog | August 19, 2016

Dr Diana Bozhilova, Head of the Faculty of Politics and International Relations & Senior Lecturer

2016 is interesting in many respects. The U.K. in/out referendum on the European Union and its aftermath has dominated discussions greatly since it took place in June. However, there is no shortage of other exciting current issues to exercise the analytical skills of the political scientist. One deserving of our attention is the next United Nations Secretary-General election, scheduled to take place later this year. Who will take on the helm of the most powerful global institution?

Unlike previous UN Secretary General elections, this one is rife with excitement. This time around, the process is more open and transparent than ever before. Granted, criticism of procedural vagueness persists but this should be hardly surprising, given the broad membership of the United Nations, premised merely on the notion of “peace-loving” states. Expressions of support by member states are being received by the President of the Assembly and of the Security Council on a rolling basis for consideration of candidates.

Next, the determination of the Eastern European Group to be represented at the helm of the UN is evidenced by the fact that seven of the 11 candidacies announced to-date hail from the region. The Eastern European Group has never held the post, one that is believed to be on rotation amongst the regional groups. Could strained relations with Russia in the Eastern Partnership, which includes Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, as well as difficulties in the Southern Neighbourhood, which involves Syria, upset the expectation of regional representation parity among the Eastern European Group members?

Finally, and for the first time, the bold but seemingly earnest discussion that the next UN Secretary-General could be a woman has infused the race with a refreshing dose of hope for renewal. After all, the UN has rather suffered from malaise for much of the post-Cold War period, both at times undermined by its own membership body, and at others strained by calls for change, most notably from the Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council Reform.

The quality of the candidates leaves little doubt that they have merited an office of responsibility of one variety or another. All have held a national presidential or ministerial post. Some have supplemented this with a supranational role. This includes two former GA Presidents (Kerim and Jeremic) and the twice mandated Secretary-General of UNESCO (Bokova, currently in office). There is no mud-slinging in this campaign: as the BBC rightly pointed out in a recent feature, some are “need-to-Google” figures, whilst the race may well still be incomplete and a further proliferation of candidacies may ensue.

Could we see 2016 off with a double-whammy: the first woman at the helm of the UN, as well as the first female President of the United States of America? Interesting 2016, indeed!