A few months ago, I posted my thoughts about the new Secretary General (SG) selection.
On the basis of established criteria and the two new desirable requirements, namely, the new SG to be Eastern European and a woman, I suggested that the current Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, was the likely choice.
Well, the men at the Security Council (SC) seem to have second thoughts about electing a woman. And perhaps even someone from Eastern Europe.
The whole thing became a tale with a lot of sound and fury (with the inevitable tale telling idiots).
The way the SC goes about it is to have several rounds of informal straw polls, in which its 15 members cast "encourage" or "discourage or "no opinion" ballots for each candidate.
Discourage votes are important as they might indicate that one of the five permanent member states with veto power might eventually eliminate the candidate. Crucially, vetoes are not used in the early rounds.
For this cycle, Russia has insisted from the outset that the SG should come from Group 2 which is Eastern Europe. They did not pronounce on gender nor did they say whether they would veto candidates from other regions, as China did during the previous selection, which yielded Mr. Charisma himself, Ban Ki Moon.
In the first four straw polls, SC members pushed Antonio Guterres, former Portuguese Prime Minister and former head of the UNHCR, to the top of the list. And he has remained there.
In fact, in the first round Guterres received no "discourage" vote, seemingly indicating that even Russia had no problem with his candidacy.
At the same time, poll after poll, women candidates were pushed to the bottom places, with the exception of Irina Bokova who hovered in the middle.
Yet, male candidates from Eastern Europe kept fluctuating between high and low positions without any one of them establishing himself as a viable runner-up figure behind Guterres.
Here are the results so far.
Given the lay of the land, my take was that Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov was working behind the scenes to ensure that women candidates other than Bokova were relegated to the bottom of the list while no male figure from Group 2 could become a possible replacement for Guterres.
This way, when the time came, Russia could veto Guterres and dare other permanent members to overlook the last woman standing, Irina Bokova. Since she is more qualified than the Eastern European boys, not selecting her would be a huge PR problem for the Security Council.
It was a good setup.
Georgieva for Guterres?
The spoiler in all that was the undeclared candidacy of another Bulgarian woman, Kristalina Georgieva, the Vice President of the Commission of EU.
That is her on the right in her rodeo outfit.
Most UN observers mentioned her as a candidate-in-waiting. She was said to be supported by Manuel Barroso, former President of the EU Commission and Mario David, a Portuguese MEP. This was unusual for two reasons:
The first is that Bulgaria already has an official candidate in the person of Irina Bokova, a career diplomat currently serving her second elected term as Director-General of UNESCO. Reports suggest that Barroso is among those pressing the Bulgarian government to switch its nomination to Georgieva, while David’s role has been to find another country in the region willing to nominate her in the event that Bulgaria refuses to budge. The second piece of the puzzle is that Portugal also has an official candidate – its former Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres – who Barroso still publicly insists he is supporting.If you are wondering why they would do such a thing:
Georgieva is highly unlikely to end up as UN Secretary-General, yet she could still have a significant role to play as a spoiler. (...) The aspirants who stand to benefit most are men from outside Eastern Europe. Step forward Antonio Guterres.In other words, in June, the Georgieva candidacy seemed like a European ploy to get Guterres selected.
Since then Merkel got involved into this and she is said to have approached Putin during the G20 Summit to push Georgieva. Apparently, she was angirily rebuffed.
Russia issued yesterday (11 September) a stern warning that it finds “unacceptable” the attempts by Merkel to influence Bulgaria and replace Irina Bokova, its candidate for the top job, by her compatriot Georgieva.Immediately after that, Bulgarian sources leaked the notion that the government might withdraw their support to Bokova and nominate Georgieva instead. After some tense days of speculation, Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov issued a terse statement about his government's continued support for Bokova. But it read more like a threat than full-throttled support.
[T]he spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova (...) said any information that Russia might be supporting such a move were “a lie”.
“After September 26, if she [Bokova] is not ranked first or second, together we will decide what to do,” Mr Borisov added.And two days after the last straw poll, on 28 September, Bulgarian government nominated Georgieva as their candidate. Since there is no mechanism to withdraw previous nominees, Bokova is still in the race.
If my speculation is correct and Lavrov was planning to have a shootout and sneak Bokova in once the dust was settled, Borisov, with some serious EU arm-twisting, has just made that plan redundant.
Questions Going Ahead
The first question that springs to mind is why would Angela Merkel, a conservative politician, risk alienating Putin for a candidate who used to be the President of Socialist International and who is likely to be vetoed by Russia.
If her lobbying efforts were not for Guterres and she was genuinely supporting Georgieva, how did she not know that Russia was deeply suspicious of her and her role in implementing sanctions after the annexation of Crimea and hostilities in Eastern Ukraine.
The French government was also irritated by Merkel’s attempt to influence the contest, and has strongly supported Guterres. Georgieva, a former World Bank economist, would not be assured of Paris’s support. The UK has also been lukewarm about her late run, fearing it would divert support from Guterres and thereby take pressure off Moscow to accept the Portuguese leader, who has wide support in the general assembly.Besides Russia, would China allow a candidate who will have the de facto support Western Europe and EU (not to mention NATO)? That negates the whole point of preferring candidates from small and marginal states.
The European Commission also effectively endorsed its Vice President’s ambitions to move from Brussels to New York, with Commission President Jean Claude Juncker’s Chief of Staff Martin Selmayr tweeting that “Kristalina would make a strong UNSG, and [would make] many Europeans proud.”Something doesn't add up about Merkel's push for Georgieva. And Georgieva's candidacy.
Next round of straw polls, scheduled for 5 October, will be the first one where vetoes are allowed (actually permanent members will use colored ballots to make "discourage" votes terminal).
Some observers note that candidates that do not get at least 9 "encourage" votes in the next poll should drop out. But I am not sure it is a legal requirement as the same argument was made before the 26 September poll by the UK's UN ambassador Matthew Rycroft and nothing happened.
If it is a procedural issue, it is worth remembering that, as of 1 October, it is Russia's turn to become the President of the Security Council.
Going back to our questions, what happens if Russia vetoes Guterres? Will SC members coalesce around Georgieva and get her enough "encourage" votes to move to the next round?
What about China? It has not shown its hand so far but given its alignment with Russia on many issues, including Syria, how likely for it to support any EU candidate?
The UN General Assembly wanted to make the selection process more transparent and therefore more legitimate. What the changes achieved was to reveal the utterly cynical nature of the process and made it clear that very little about the candidates matter.
We now realize more than ever before intense negotiations are taking place behind closed doors about Syria and the Middle East, refugee crisis, Russia's energy policies (North and South Streams, NATO, South China Sea.
So, if Russia accept Guterres, you can be sure that Putin will have been given major concessions on a number of important issues.
Conversely, if Russia dismisses Guterres, you will know that Putin will play hardball until he gets the candidate he wants.
For its part, China will push for an SC that is pliable. And will ask for a number of prizes like the top peace keeping job to be given to a Chinese national.
No one know who the Americans want but I have a sneaking suspicion that they might be negotiating with Putin as we speak about a surprise compromise candidate.
At this point, most observers concede that it is likely that the SC will ask for new candidates or even a whole new list.
But Putin might still surprise us and get the candidate he wants from this current group.