Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

The election procedure for chosing the UN Secretary General

UNDER THE Wisnumurti Guidelines — which built upon a transparent procedure first put in place in 1991 by Chinmaya R. Gharekhan who, as India’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. and President of the Security Council, oversaw the election of Boutros Boutros-Ghali — a number of informal ballots are held in order to narrow the field down to the top two candidates:

The viability of each candidate may be assessed by means of a “straw poll(s)” to be conducted in accordance with the following procedure:

  • Two types of papers will be distributed to the members of the Security Council. White papers for non-permanent members and red papers for permanent members. Each paper will contain a column listing the name of candidate or candidates, the first marked “encouraged” and the second “discouraged.”
  • Each member of the Security Council may indicate on the appropriate paper the candidate or candidates who it wants to encourage or discourage.

Candidates who are “encouraged” by the least number of members and who are “discouraged” by one or more permanent members, tend to withdraw from the fray. When Brian Mulroney polled just two votes in 1991, for example, the Canadian Government informed the Security Council that it could “no longer spare” the former Prime Minister.

At the early stages of this process, it is not unusual for members to support (i.e. “encourage”) more than one candidate. In 1991, for example, both Boutros-Ghali and Mr. Chidzero went into the final, formal vote with more than the nine members required for a majority encouraging them. During this informal balloting, a negative vote by a permanent member does not mean the candidate concerned is eliminated.

It is only afetr this process establishes clarity about who the leading (or top two) contender(s) is/are that the Security Council proceeds to a formal vote.

If deadlock persists, either because of the top two candidates polling equal “encouraged” votes or because both face the veto (as happened in 1981), a compromise candidate who is not formally in the race till then is encouraged to enter the fray with the promise of unanimous election. That year, Mr. Perez de Cuellar was chosen to break the deadlock.

This time, the smart money is on Singapore’s former Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong, being drafted in the event of a deadlock among the other Asian contenders.

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This entry was posted on June 21, 2006 by in United Nations.

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