Montenegro’s foreign minister Igor Luksic has withdrawn from the race to be the United Nations’ next Secretary-General, saying that he hopes the “Eastern European argument will prevail” in the contest.
This was a reference to the concept, based on the old system of rotating the UN Secretary-General post among blocs, that the next holder of the office should come from Eastern Europe.
Luksic’s withdrawal from the race on August 23 followed him polling last in informal “straw polls” among UN Security Council members, and came six days before the next such poll, on August 29.
With the earlier withdrawal of Croatian candidate Vesna Pusic, there is now a field of 10 candidates – six of them from Eastern European countries: Bulgaria, Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Results of the “straw poll” rounds of votes, intended to signal to candidates their ultimate chances, are not officially released, but UN sources have indicated that Antonio Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal and former head of the UN High Commission for Refugees, came out on top in the first two. Guterres received 11 votes “encouraging” his candidacy, two “discouraging” it and two expressing “no opinion” on it.
Serbian former foreign minister Vuk Jeremic placed second in the second straw poll, taking the place held in the first poll by Slovenia’s former president Danilo Turk, who dropped to fourth place.
Bulgaria’s candidate Irina Bokova, in joint third place in the first poll, dropped to fifth in the second, in which she got seven votes to “discourage” her bid, seven to “encourage” her and one “no opinion”.
Deeply controversial within Bulgaria, the candidacy of Bokova – whose pedigree lies ultimately in the Bulgarian Communist Party of yore – has come under fire from various quarters, including in an open letter from Bulgarian filmmaker Evgeni Mihailov and in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton.
Bolton said that Bokova “widely seen as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s preferred candidate, is a rarity in post-Cold War Eastern Europe: She hasn’t recoiled as far from Moscow’s grasp as possible”.
He also sharply criticised Bokova, now in her second term as head of Unesco, over the Palestinian authority’s successful campaign in 2011 to join Unesco as a “member state”, and accused Bokova as having shown “indecision and cowardice” during the crisis over the Palestinian authority’s membership. The attack prompted Bokova to send a letter to the WSJ rejecting Bolton’s allegations against her.
The Bokova camp in Bulgaria also sought to defend her with a letter signed by a number of Bulgarian intellectuals, most of them on the left-wing, seeking to promote her candidacy. “It is time for a woman from Eastern Europe to take the helm at the UN and this woman is Irina Bokova, who can combine the exquisiteness of silk with the hardness of steel,” according to the signatories to the letter.