The 15 members of the United Nations Security Council are to hold a second straw poll on August 5 to shape the race among 11 official candidates to be the UN’s next Secretary-General, to succeed incumbent Ban Ki-moon.
In the first such informal ballot, held on July 21, António Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal and former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Slovenia’s former president Danilo Türk garnered the most support.
The straw poll process is intended to narrow down the race by discouraging candidates with scant chance of support. On the eve of the August 5 poll, Croatia’s former foreign minister, Vesna Pusić, announced that she was withdrawing her candidacy because she felt that she lacked support.
While – in spite of promises of transparency about the selection process – results of the July 21 straw poll were not announced officially, reports said that Guterres got 12 “encourage” votes and Türk got 11.
There was a tie for third place – Irina Bokova, nominated by Bulgaria and widely seen as the candidate backed by UN Security Council permanent member Russia, Serbian former foreign minister Vuk Jeremić and Macedonia’s Srdjan Kerim each got nine “encourage” votes.
Bokova, a controversial figure in Bulgaria and abroad because of her place as the scion of a communist-era elite family and for negative reports about her handling of her post as head of Unesco, was reported to have been given four “discourage” votes – two of them, it is said, from the United States and United Kingdom.
Further along the line in the process, although all votes in the straw polls have equal weight, any UN Security Council permanent member would be able to effectively veto a candidate, raising the opportunity for either the US or the UK or both to knock Bokova out of the race.
Bokova was first nominated by the then-government of Bulgaria in 2014, in its closing days before stepping down in the face of massive public rejection that saw huge protests demanding its resignation and as Bulgarians dealt a huge slap to the Bulgarian Socialist Party in European Parliament elections that year.
While some expected that the current centre-right coalition government headed by Boiko Borissov would drop Bokova in favour of a candidate of greater political kinship to the majority of Bulgarians, and also enjoying international respect – meaning, European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva – Borissov bowed to a threat from the socialist splinter party ABC that it would withdraw its support for his government unless Bokova was nominated.
Ironically, some months after issuing the threat, ABC – headed by former president Georgi Purvanov, who had the code name Gotse from Bulgaria’s communist-era State Security secret service – pulled out of the government anyway, in the months leading up to Bulgaria’s November 6 presidential elections.
Bokova, who was a deputy foreign minister in the 1990s Videnov government that was forced out of office by public protests that arose from economic collapse in Bulgaria at the time and who also was a failed vice-presidential candidate for the Bulgarian Socialist Party in 1997, came under fire in a letter on July 25 by Bulgarian film maker Evgeni Mihailov.
The letter, made public after being sent to UN diplomats, pointed to media reports about what it called Bokova’s “communist background, lack of personal integrity, ruinous mismanagement of UNESCO with questionable practices at all levels”.
It added that Bokova’s nomination “left her own country stunned and divided. The nomination was deeply controversial” and said that popular support for her candidacy was “practically non-existent”.
On July 29, Borissov’s government announced that he had sent letters to the prime ministers of five countries calling on their governments to support Bokova’s candidacy for the UN Secretary-General post.
Borissov’s letter was addressed to his counterparts in the UK, Theresa May; Spain, Mariano Rajoy; Japan, Shinzo Abe; Malaysia, Najib Razak; and New Zealand, John Key – the last-mentioned in spite of the fact that New Zealand has its own candidate in the race to be Secretary-General, former prime minister Helen Clark.
In the letter, Borissov wrote: “The Bulgarian candidacy is one of the strongest within the system of the UN and will contribute to the development of specific actions, aimed at overcoming the pressing challenges and threats effectively and will promote peace and security.”
In an August 4 article headlined “US and Russia brawl over race for UN chief”, Politico said, “Washington, which is believed to want a woman in the UN role, has been backing Argentina’s foreign minister (Susana Malcorra) in the secretive selection process, U.N. sources say. Meanwhile, UN sources say Russia is angling for a female Bulgarian diplomat with family ties to the Soviet Union (Bokova), a nod to its desire to see an Eastern European in the job”.
(Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)