Guterres extends lead in race for next U.N. Secretary-General

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini speaks to the security council at U.N. Head Quarters. (Credit: European External Action Service/flickr)

The fifth U.N. Security Council “straw poll” on Monday to pick the next secretary-general saw former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres hold steady at the top while the rest of the field fell further behind. He is on the brink of securing the job, but the next poll will provide some needed clarity.

The 14 countries that make up the Security Council will vote anonymously again on Oct. 5, but there is one important wrinkle. Votes cast by the five permanent members will appear in a different color from the rest – making a veto clear. We will finally know whether the two votes against Guterres are significant enough to end his run.

Results from the first five straw polls for U.N. Secretary General. Scores presented as: Encourage-Discourage-No Opinion Expressed.

Results from the first five straw polls for U.N. secretary-general. Scores presented as: Encourage-Discourage-No Opinion Expressed.

If he continues to do as well as he has done since the first poll and there are no veto-toting opponents, we will have the security council’s official pick. The security council would make its recommendation to the rest of the U.N., and the General Assembly would vote him in.

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However, with Russia making it clear that its wants an Eastern European to lead the U.N., there is a good chance of a veto.

If that happens, a brand new field of candidates is needed. Candidates must get at least nine support votes to move on. In the latest poll, former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic or Slovakia’s Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak fell below that threshold. The remaining candidates received seven or more discourage votes, with a good chance that at least one is a veto.

The vote did not encourage any of the remaining candidates to drop out. Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and Jeremic were not discouraged by the results and affirmed their plans to stay in the race.

But a major shake-up looms large over the next vote. Rumors swirled after the fourth poll that Bulgaria would dump its candidate Irina Bokova and nominate European Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov quickly ended the speculation saying that support remains for Bokova, but he would evaluate her candidacy after the next poll. Yesterday’s result was not good for her – she lost two encourage votes and ended up with more discourage votes than encourage.

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Candidates can enter the race at any point, so it is both allowable and possible that Bulgaria could finally shift its support to Georgieva. If that happens, then the next poll could see Guterres finally lose grip on his lead. Georgieva checks two major boxes that campaigners and countries want to see in the next secretary-general – she is a woman and Eastern European.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.