ON December 31st the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to end his term in office. The race for his successor is officially on and so far there are eight candidates officially nominated for the position - four are women and three of the candidates are from Eastern Europe meaning there’s a real possibility that the next head of the UN could be the organisation’s first female secretary-general.
The selection process for a new United Nations Secretary-General, traditionally decided behind closed-doors by a few powerful countries, for the first time in history involved public discussions in a bid to increase transparency around the whole machinery of the UN. These took place between April 12 -16 after each of the current eight candidates were formally introduced to the General Assembly.
The dialogues saw each candidate present a short oral presentation to the General Assembly followed by a two hour time slot where member states had either two or three minutes to ask questions on behalf of their countries or geographic grouping. Social media also got civil society involved - a website was created where people submitted questions in writing, video or audio or through the hashtags #UNSGcandidates.
That was unchartered territory for the 70-year-old organisation that had, until now, had only eight Secretaries-General all of who were selected in a relatively closed process by the 15-member UN Security Council. The next round of dialogues will be in June and the Security Council will begin deliberations in July.
There is no African candidate in the run, partly because it is not “Africa’s turn”, but activists are looking out for which of the contenders will be good for the continent. Here are brief profiles of the eight current candidates, along with key points on what their vision is for the UN and what they’ll be pushing for:
Srgjan Kerim (Macedonia)
Srgjan is a seasoned diplomat, economist, scholar, businessman and avid poet. He has more than 30 years international political experience, as Foreign Minister and Ambassador of the Republic of Macedonia and President of the 62nd Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. This gives him extensive knowledge of the UN system.
He began his academic career as a professor of international economics at the University of Belgrade and is the author of 10 books dealing with international politics, economics and youth. He also has a business track record in media. He is President of the Board of Directors of Media Print Macedonia and in 2004 was appointed Chairman of the Board of Politika Newspapers and Magazines in Belgrade. In addition he has served as General Manager for South Eastern Europe of the WAZ Media Group.
His vision: Management reform to get a more active and coherent system with stronger engagement from all members of the General Assembly, strengthen the implementation of the UN counter-terrorism strategy in combating violent extremism,
Vesna Pusic (Croatia)
Vesna is a politician and an academic. For the past four years she has held the position of Minister of Foreign and European Affairs and also held the office of the first Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia. She oversaw her country’s entry into the European Union in 2013. In her foreign affairs role she has been outspoken in gender equality, particularly in conflict and transition societies.
Her vision: Work to strengthen UN mediation efforts for conflict situations, keep extreme inequality and climate change high on the global agenda as key issues to resolve.
Igor Lukši? (Montenegro)
A politician with a strong background in Finance, Igor has served Montenegro in the capacity of Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, Member of Parliament, Member of Parliament of Serbia and Montenegro 2003-2006 and since 2012 has been the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration.
At 39 years old he is the youngest contender in the race to be secretary-general.
His vision: Setting up a Peace Operations Group for improved coordination and insights when dealing with conflicts, improve mechanisms so that countries effectively integrate the sustainable development goals into their national strategies, strengthen UN Regional Economic Commissions.
Danilo Türk (Slovenia)
A former Slovenian president, Danilo is an internationally recognised political figure, a professor of international law as well as a human rights expert and philanthropist - he is the founder of the Danilo Türk Foundation, devoted mostly to the rehabilitation of child victims of armed conflict.
He has considerable experience working with the UN serving as the Ambassador to the United Nations, from 1992 to 2000 and the UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs from 2000 to 2005.
His vision: Intensify efforts to develop greater understanding among different cultures and acceptance of their diversity, create conditions at the international level that will allow equity and fairness within societies to progress and operational improvements and structural change within the UN to improve effectiveness.
Irina Bokova (Bulgaria)
A politician and a diplomat, Irina also gained valuable UN experience as Director General of one of the UN’s largest agencies - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
As director of Unesco she has been actively engaged in efforts to advance gender equality, push for quality education for all and combat terrorism financing by preventing the illicit traffic of cultural goods.
Her vision: Strengthen the UN’s role in conflict prevention, a strong reform agenda for the UN driven by efficiency measures, transparency and strong management, female empowerment through focusing on combatting violence against women and girls and making societies more resilient to climate change.
Natalia Gherman (Moldova)
Gherman is a politician and diplomat who has held various top positions in the Government of the Republic of Moldova, including Deputy Prime-Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration and Acting Prime Minister. She led her country’s negotiations with the European Union on association and trade and was Moldova’s Ambassador to UN agencies in several European countries as well as to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Her vision: Ensure that effective conflict early warning mechanisms are used to assist the Security Council, nurture trust and cooperation among nations, empower regional organisations and foster synergies within the UN system in working towards the SDGs.
Antonio Guterres (Portugal)
Guterres has held very high positions both politically and for the UN, acting as the Prime Minister of Portugal (1995-2002), president of the European council and then as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2005-2015). Because of his position with the UNHCR, one of the most challenging posts at the UN, he is seen as a strong contender for his handling of Europe’s refugee crisis. He was at the helm of the organisation when it went through a period of continuous and intense reform and innovation, allowing it to triple its annual activities.
His vision: His focus is on action and the watchword is implementation, mainstreaming of human rights across the whole UN system, focus on spending less on energy and resources and instead strengthen the culture of prevention, improve coordination and cooperation between agencies and partners and support a culture of reform to make the UN less bureaucratic and more efficient, productive and field oriented.
Helen Clark (New Zealand)
A stateswoman of international stature, Helen has considerable experience in politics as one of New Zealand’s longest serving Prime Ministers and she has immense UN knowledge having served, since 2009, in the third highest position leading the UN Development Programme (UNDP). She has taken the hard decisions necessary to make UNDP more effective and under Helen’s leadership, UNDP topped the Global Campaign for Aid Transparency’s 2014 index of major worldwide aid institutions.
Her vision: Make the UN a flexible, practical and effective organisation, ensure that the implementation of Agenda 2030 development framework is totally inclusive no matter the country’s circumstances, deliver first class crisis management and practical advice for the Security Council and ensure that dialogue is promoted persistently and exhaustively.