On Oct. 5, the United Nations’ new secretary general was elected.
“Today after our sixth straw poll we have a clear favourite and his name is António Guterres,” said Vitaly Churkin, the Russian UN ambassador, speaking on behalf of the 15 members of the Security Council
Guterres, the former Prime Minister of Portugal, will succeed Ban Ki-moon to become the ninth Secretary General of the UN General Assembly.
The selection process began in April 2016 when General Assembly members questioned candidates publicly. The five permanent member nations of the Security Council were unable to nominate a candidate, and the final list included 13 official candidates. Beginning on July 21, the Security Council conducted a series of informal straw polls, where members were asked to vote in favor or against every candidate
. A candidate needed to have no disapproval votes from the P5 as well as approval from a majority of UN members. The sixth poll ended with a clear consensus, confirming the SC’s nomination of Guterres for the role of secretary general.
A favorite from the start of the selection process, Guterres was elected unopposed at the sixth straw poll with 13 encouraged votes in favor and 2 abstentions. However, the geographical distribution of candidates made him largely part of a minority — the official list contained nine from the Eastern European Group and seven women
. Neither category had ever been represented by previous Secretary Generals, and many predicted the race was primed to make history in either or both of the respects.
As the straw polls progressed, Guterres consistently remained the leading candidate, but rising tensions between Russia and the United States suggested that the race was far from over. Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the UN, expressed his country’s preference
for a female Eastern European nominee after taking the rotational presidency this month. “We do believe that it is the turn of Eastern Europe to provide the next secretary general,” he said, adding, “We would very much like to see a woman.”
Irina Bokova, the Bulgarian director general of UNESCO, was Moscow’s alleged favorite. However, her unpopularity with other SC members and Bulgaria’s last-minute decision to withdraw official support for her candidacy made her appointment unlikely.
Although the election of the 63-year-old former UN High Commissioner on Refugees was met fairly positively, another unavoidable question loomed over the announcement: Why was a woman not elected? With seven of the 13 candidates being accomplished, experienced women, many hoped that the race would end with the nomination of the first female secretary general. The bittersweet responses to Guterres’ election were due to the disappointment with the Council’s apparent sexism
, branding the decision a "disaster for gender equality." Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican candidate, called the results “bittersweet,” but fully supported
Helen Clark, another candidate and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, denied that the selection process had been unfair towards female candidates. "If you're asking whether women are being discriminated against — no. There are a lot of factors swirling around,” she said in an interview with The Guardian
after Guterres was officially chosen.
Regardless of gender and regional controversies, observers agree that António Guterres is arguably one of the best qualified for the position, and his previous experience
in the UNHCR was decisive in his nomination. He is intimately familiar with crisis management and policy making. He hopes to approach his role as the world’s top diplomat with humility and gratitude
as he faces the “terrible complexity of the modern world.” As Guterres said, “[Humility] is required to serve the most vulnerable, victims of conflicts, of terrorism, rights violations, poverty and injustices of this world.”
Priyanka Lakhiani is Deputy News Editor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.