The UN Security Council on Thursday unanimously backed former Portuguese premier Antonio Guterres to be the next UN chief as the world body’s powerful organ recommended to the General Assembly to appoint him for a five-year term. The 15-member Council held a formal vote here to elect Guterres, 67, a day after it said the former UN High Commissioner for refugees had emerged as the “clear favorite” to succeed Ban Ki-moon, 72, as the 9th Secretary General. Guterres’s name will now be considered by the 193-member General Assembly for final confirmation. The Assembly’s membership historically chooses the candidate that the Council decides upon.
The veteran politician had said in an interview with The Associated Press that if he got the job his aim would be to work with all countries to help solve the myriad problems on the global agenda.
The Security Council adopted the resolution, behind closed doors as is practice, recommending that the General Assembly appoint Guterres for a five-year term from January 1, 2017. The resolution needed nine votes in favour and no vetoes to pass.
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India had congratulated Guterres on his election with Ambassador to the UN Syed Akbaruddin tweeting, “Congratulations and Best wishes. India welcomes António Manuel de Olivera Guterres as next Secretary General of @UN.”
Akbaruddin’s tweet was accompanied with a picture of Guterres shaking hands with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Guterres had met Swaraj during his visit to New Delhi in July this year. The Council had conducted a sixth straw poll yesterday in which Guterres received 13 encourage votes and two no opinion votes. None of the five veto-wielding permanent members voted against him, clearing the way for Guterres to become the world’s top diplomat.
“Today after our sixth straw poll we have a clear favorite and his name is Antonio Guterres,” Russia’s envoy to the UN and President of the Council for October Vitaly Churkin had reporters after the straw poll.
“We wish Guterres well in discharging his duties as the Secretary General of the UN for the next five years,” Churkin had said. Churkin also informed President of the UN General Assembly Peter Thomson that Guterres had emerged as the unanimous choice after the sixth informal and first colour-coded straw poll of the Security Council for the position of Secretary-General.
“The President thanked him for the information and said he was ready to further progress the process of appointing the next Secretary-General in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations,” Thomson’s office said.
Guterres was Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002 and then served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005 to 2015. Ban is the 8th Secretary-General in the organisation’s 70-year history. He took office in January 2007 and will be ending his 10-year tenure on December 31, 2016. Guterres had emerged as the front-runner in all the six straw polls conducted, with the first one in July.
In addition to Guterres, 12 other candidates were in the running to succeed the current UN Secretary General. The decision by the Security Council brings the UN closer towards the culmination of an unprecedented process since the selection of a new United Nations Secretary-General, traditionally decided behind closed-doors by a few powerful countries, had for the first time in history, involved public discussions with each candidate campaigning for the world’s top diplomatic post.
As per tradition, the job of secretary-general rotates among regions. The post has been held by Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe in the past, however East European nations argued it was their turn to have the next Secretary General from the region.
The informal briefings between the candidates, UN member states and civil society representatives kicked off in April, when the first three candidates presented their vision statements and answered questions on how they would promote sustainable development, improve efforts to create peace, protect human rights, and deal with huge humanitarian catastrophes should they be selected to lead the organisation.
In addition, this July, the UN held its first-ever globally televised and webcast townhall-style debate in the General Assembly Hall, where the confirmed candidates at the time took questions from diplomats and the public at large.
Guterres’s selection for the post of the world’s top diplomat also dashed hopes of a woman to succeed Ban Ki-moon. There was a growing call for a woman to be elected to the post. Several UN member states and civil society organisations had called for choosing a woman as the next Secretary General, given that the world body has had no female head in its 70- year history.
WomanSG, an organisation that had been rallying for a woman Secretary General, said in a statement that the announcement by the Security Council, “with smiling faces”, that they have chosen a man to be the UN chief once again is a disaster for equal rights and gender equality.
“It is unfair to both women and to East Europe and represents the usual backroom deals that still prevail at the UN. There were seven outstanding female candidates and in the end it appears they were never seriously considered. This is an outrage,” the group said.
UN Director at Human Rights Watch Louis Charbonneau said with Guterres, the Security Council has chosen an “outspoken and effective advocate for refugees with the potential to strike a radically new tone on human rights at a time of great challenges”.
“Ultimately, the next UN secretary-general will be judged on his ability to stand up to the very powers that just selected him, whether on Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, the refugee crisis, climate change or any other problem that comes his way,” Charbonneau said.