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UN secretary general hopefuls vie for global support

With the shroud of secrecy partially lifted for the first time from the process of electing the next UN secretary general, the nine candidates are taking their case to the world and seeking out influencers like India.

Each of the nine candidates spent two hours presenting their vision for the UN before the 193-member General Assembly over three days beginning last Tuesday and subjected themselves to a grilling from not only diplomats but also from ordinary citizens picked by civil society organisations.

Under the spotlight of democracy, the candidates vying to succeed Ban Ki-moon, who completes his second term at the end of this year, are reaching beyond the Security Council’s five permanent members (P5) to meeting with diplomats individually and in groups.

According to diplomatic sources, six of them have so far met with India’s Permanent Representative, Syed Akbaruddin, some of them visiting him at the Indian mission.

A diplomatic source said they are meeting Akabaruddin individually and have been in touch with officials in New Delhi because they think India is a “significant influencer” of opinion at the UN.

With the Security Council expected to begin considering the nominations in July, it is likely that some more candidates may join the fray. If they do, another round of candidate meetings will be held.

In the 70 years of the UN, all the eight secretaries general were essentially picked by the P5 – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – and the General Assembly merely rubber-stamped the choice. Although the veto-wielding P5 will continue to have the ultimate say, it could still be different this time.

“The Security Council will now have the public to answer to if it fails to put merit before political convenience in its decision later this year,” said Natalie Samarasinghe, the executive director of United Nations Association – UK and the co-founder of 1 for 7 Billion, a campaign for opening up the election process.

“It was easy to select the lowest-denominator candidate when meetings were taking place behind closed doors, but the element of public scrutiny that has now emerged …has thrown a spotlight on to the proceedings,” Samarasinghe added.

“The General Assembly will no longer be simply a rubber stamp for the P5 governments’ very, very flawed selection process,” explained William R. Pace, the executive director of the Institute for Global Policy.

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