Accessibility links

Breaking News

UN: South Korean Likely To Be Next Secretary-General

Ban Ki-moon (right) shakes hands with Kofi Annan in May (epa) UNITED NATIONS, October 3, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon is almost certain to become the next United Nations secretary-general after the last informal vote in the UN Security Council on October 2 showed his candidacy firmly supported by 14 of the council's 15 members, including all five permanent veto-yielding members.

Now the actual selection of the winning candidate moves to the next and probably last step in the Security Council -- a formal vote. That vote is set for October 9. But with such strong backing, the selection of Ban Ki-moon appears now to be a mere formality.

According to the UN Charter, the Security Council recommends a candidate for secretary-general to the General Assembly, which then approves or rejects the candidate with a simple majority.

But in the 61-year history of the UN, every candidate recommended by the council has been approved by the assembly.

The current secretary-general, Kofi Annan of Ghana, who has been at the helm of the UN since 1996, is stepping down at the end of the year. The Security Council wanted to select its candidate by early October to allow plenty of time for the transition period.

Strong Support For Ban

The October 2 vote was the fourth since July, but it was the first "differentiated ballot," where the five permanent members -- China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States -- vote with a different color piece of paper. None voted against Ban Ki-moon.

Shortly after the vote, Wang Guangya, China's ambassador to the UN, said the council's choice was obvious. "It is quite clear from today's straw poll that Minister Ban Ki-moon is the candidate that the Security Council will recommend to the General Assembly," he said.

Kenzo Oshima, Japan's ambassador to the UN and the president of the Security Council during October, said that there will be no more informal voting. "I think that [the] sense of the council is that on the basis of the today's ballot [the] council is now ready for a formal ballot."

The two runner-ups -- Shashi Tharoor of India, a UN undersecretary-general, and Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the president of Latvia -- had some support in earlier rounds of voting, but after the October 2 vote their chances are no longer considered realistic.

Shortly after the vote, Shashi Tharoor announced his withdrawal from the race and said it is clear that Ban Ki-moon will be the next secretary-general.

Respected Candidate

Ban, 62, has been the leading candidate from the very beginning of the race, which at one point fielded seven diplomats vying for the top job at the world body.

Ban received his bachelor's degree from Seoul National University in 1970 and a masters degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1985.

The South Korean diplomat has the strong support of China, Britain, and the United States.

"We have a lot of respect for Foreign Minister Ban," U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said. "We know him well from his service in Washington and here, in New York, and think very highly of him professionally and personally."

The informal polls are not binding and Security Council members can reverse their position between now and when they make their recommendation.

Given the urgency of the matter, however, and the consensus that the next secretary-general should come from Asia, as of now, Ban Ki-moon is considered to be the council's choice for the General Assembly vote.

The Next UN Secretary-General?

The Next UN Secretary-General?

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid (courtesy photo)

The women's rights group Equality Now has noted that no woman has held the position of secretary-general of the United Nations in its 60-year history. While geographic regions take "turns" in nominating candidates, women have never had their "turn," despite many qualified candidates. Below -- in no particular order -- is a selection of some of the women that Equality Now has put forth as possible candidates for secretary-general.

SADAKO OGATA served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from 1991 to 2000. Before her career as UNHCR, she was the independent expert of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar in 1990. In 1982-85, she was also representative of Japan on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Ogata has also been a prominent academic figure, serving as dean of the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Sophia University in Tokyo from 1989 until 1991. Prior to that she was director of the Institute of International Relations at the same university.

TARJA KAARINA HALONEN is the current and first female president of Finland. She is currently running for a second term. Halonen has a master of law degree from the University of Helsinki. She is a very popular politician and she was Finland's foreign minister from 1995 until 2000.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI is the 1991 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. As a pro-democracy campaigner and leader of the opposition National League for Democracy party (NLD), she has spent most of the past 16 years in some form of detention under Burma's military regime. Born on 19 June 1945 to Burma's independence hero, Aung San, Suu Kyi was educated in Burma, India, and the United Kingdom. Her father was assassinated when she was 2 years old.

THORAYA AHMED OBAID is the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the world’s largest multilateral source of population assistance. Obaid was appointed head of UNFPA on 1 January 2001 with the rank of undersecretary-general of the United Nations. She is the first Saudi Arabian to head a United Nations agency. Before joining UNFPA, Obaid was deputy executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) from 1993-98. In 1975, Obaid established the first women's development program in Western Asia.

GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND served three terms as prime minister of Norway in the 1980s and 1990s and was director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1998–2003. In the 1980s, she gained international recognition by championing the principle of sustainable development as the chairwoman of the World Commission of Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission).

(Compiled by RFE/RL; to see the complete list, click here.)