As discussed in part 1 of this series, this year’s UN Secretary-General (SG) race is well underway with a public nomination process for the first time ever, the Eastern European Group claiming it is next in line for the post, and civil society strengthening its calls for the first female SG.  Now we’ll take closer look at the contenders themselves, many of whom boast strong diplomatic credentials, including several with deep UN expertise and multilateral leadership experience.  The field is likely to be fairly crowded, dynamic, and hotly contested. 

Candidates require nomination by a member state or regional group; typically it comes from their own government, but it isn’t required.  In this year’s race, competing interest from several citizens of the same country and recent Eastern European and Australian government changeovers have created some confusion over nominations and a more contentious field than usual.  There’s nothing restricting a member state from nominating more than one candidate, but most prefer to coalesce around one, sparking domestic battles for support in several Eastern European countries that some commentators have described as SG primaries.

While NGOs and bloggers continue to post lengthy lists of leaders they consider to be qualified candidates, it’s important to filter those lists for those who are actually interested and have a chance at garnering support from the UN Security Council’s permanent five (P5) members.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, for example, do not seem inclined to leave their day jobs, and the Council is unlikely to support an influential former head of state. 

The President of the General Assembly has announced five official candidates so far:

  • Srgjan Kerim, a former Macedonian diplomat and UN General Assembly President, was first to be officially nominated through the new process and already has his website up and running.
  • Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic received an official nomination from the outgoing Croatian prime minister despite uncertainty over the incoming government’s position on her candidacy.
  • Montenegrin former Prime Minister and current Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Luksic has maintained a low profile so far.  At age 39, he is likely to be the youngest candidate in the field and would be the youngest-ever SG if selected.
  • Former Slovenian President Danilo Turk, who has also served as UN Assistant SG for Political Affairs, secured the support of his current government, almost two years after the previous one endorsed his candidacy.
  • Bulgaria earlier this week formally nominated UNESCO chief Irina Bokova after Vice President of the European Commission Kristalina Georgieva withdrew her name from consideration.  Bokova had received support from two different Bulgarian administrations, and some commentators consider her a frontrunner.

There are several other potential candidates from the Eastern European Group:

  • Slovakia also has two potential candidates who are jockeying for support; Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak and Jan Kubis, the UN’s Iraq envoy and former SG of the OSCE.
  • Former Serbian Foreign Minister and UN General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic has long coveted the SG post, but some question whether he will receive the support of his government, and his divisive leadership style and nationalistic agenda at the UN has rankled Western countries on several occasions.

And there are some other potential contenders from outside Eastern Europe:

  • The Portuguese government released a statement last month endorsing Antonio Guterres, a well-respected former prime minister who just wrapped up a decade as UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
  • UNDP chief and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark continues to remain discreet about her interest, although her government has publicly stated it would support Clark if she ran. 
  • Speculation continues to swirl about former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and he may very well be testing the waters, in part through an ambitious travel agenda. In the latest twist, an exchange of letters obtained by The Australian reveals that Tony Abbott pledged Australian support for Clark while he was prime minister, unbeknownst to the Malcolm Turnbull administration.  New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has since told Turnbull that he won’t hold Australia to the agreement. Regardless, as a Western male with close ties to Washington, Rudd most likely would face an uphill battle for P5 support (for more on this, see 'Kevin '17 and the race to be the next UN Secretary-General' and 'Why Kevin Rudd won't be the next UN Secretary General').
  • The names of several Latin American women have also been floated, including Mexican senior UN official Alicia Barcena, Costa Rican economist and former UN official Rebeca Grynspan, Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, and Argentine Foreign Relations Minister Susana Malcorra, who previously served as a senior UN official.

This list is likely to change, and new names may emerge in the coming months or even toward the end of the process.  While bets are already being taken (Bokova leads with 4-1 odds on one gambling site), it’s hard to predict closely held P5 positions and how geopolitics in the next six months might affect their views.  Eastern Europeans and female candidates may have an advantage at least initially, but in this 'G-zero' world of competing visions, the field may need to be broadened. 

Continue to watch The Interpreter as the race unfolds to see whether an early front-runner secures early P5 support, a candidate consolidates support with financial and diplomatic promises, or a dark horse emerges only after a P5 deadlock. 

Photo Courtesy of Flickr user United Nations