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Rudd’s latest manoeuvre in the race to lead the UN

Rudd’s latest manoeuvre in the race to lead the UN
Published 5 Oct 2016 

The indefatigable Kevin Rudd appeared in the news on the UN secretary-general (SG) race yet again in recent days. After denying that Rudd had sought out other countries to nominate him for SG, his spokesperson released a statement claiming that another government had approached Rudd about giving him the nomination. The former prime minister has reportedly ruled it out after he asked the Australian government six weeks ago if it would oppose the nomination and received no reply, although his former adviser has speculated about whether the door is still ajar for Rudd. The mystery country is rumoured to be an African nation that received Australian funding for aid during the Rudd government’s bid for a seat on the Security Council.

As I have written previously, Prime Minister Turnbull's refusal to nominate Rudd because he wasn’t ‘well suited’ for the role almost certainly ended Rudd's chances back in July. Turnbull’s public rejection meant that Rudd not only would have to contend with his reputation as a prominent Westerner and his historically rocky relationship with China, but he would also have to convince Council members to ignore Australia’s assessment of Rudd as unsuitable. Now it’s even later in the game with the UN Security Council scheduled to hold the first straw poll that differentiates votes from the veto-wielding permanent five (P5) members in a matter of hours.

Furthermore, in the sovereignty-oriented UN world, some Council members, including China, have reportedly indicated they won’t support a candidate who isn’t nominated by his or her own country. Non-permanent Council member Venezuela has stated that 'it's too late' for more entries, and more members may feel the same after the UN's efforts to make the race more open and transparent this time around. Some Security Council members are also considering how the Council can narrow the field, given the large number of candidates still remaining.

Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva did successfully overcome concerns about late entrants to join the SG race last week, but she was nominated by her own country and had time to go through this year’s unprecedented interview process with the UN General Assembly and Security Council before this week’s poll. Unlike frontrunner Antonio Guterres (or Rudd for that matter), Georgieva would fulfil calls for the UN’s first female SG and the first from Eastern Europe. It’s unclear, however, whether Georgieva can garner Russian support as a two-time EU leader associated with sanctions against Moscow, and Russia’s displeasure over the accounts of lobbying for her nomination (see ‘High stakes at high-level week for UN secretary-general hopefuls’).

If Rudd was serious about pursuing this third-party nomination, it’s unclear why he waited six weeks for a response from the Australian Government that he didn’t need. One hypothesis for this latest development is that Rudd is trying to remain in the conversation as negotiations over deputy SG and other senior-level UN positions take place behind closed doors. Another could be that he sees the possibility of a deadlocked Council after the first colour-coded vote and wants to stay top-of-mind as a compromise candidate. Whatever the motivation, I’d argue that the chances that Rudd could leapfrog the 10 current candidates and step through a minefield of P5 vetoes on the backing of an unnamed African nation to become the next SG are slim.

Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

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