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The race to become the next United Nations secretary-general is entering its final lap, just a few months before Ban Ki-moon is set to step down from his post as U.N. chief. Maybe you’re finding yourself still a bit confused about the process. There’s a good reason for that.

While officially dubbed an election, the race to serve as the U.N.’s leader largely happens behind closed doors, and ultimately comes down to the political leanings — and votes — of the five permanent members of the Security Council.

It’s a crowded playing field this year, as 10 candidates are now in the running.

Bulgaria caused a stir by nominating Kristalina Georgieva for the secretary-general post last week. Georgieva, now on leave from her job as the European Commission’s vice president for budget, will state her case to the U.N. General Assembly on Monday. This week she generally spelled out her priorities — conflict prevention and resolution, the sustainable development agenda and restoring the U.N.’s reputation — in a vision statement.

Georgieva’s last-minute entry into the race has raised questions about the lead António Guterres, the former prime minister of Portugal and high commissioner of the U.N. refugee agency, has demonstrated in a series of five “straw poll” votes Security Council members cast over the last several months.

It will become much clearer on Wednesday, when the last straw poll is held, where the permanent members of the Security Council stand. Their colored ballots to “encourage” or “discourage” a candidate could knock someone out of the running. These votes could be offset by the continuation of negotiations, but the winner will then be submitted to the General Assembly, who will approve them.

To get a better sense of how the process unfolds, watch the explainer video above.

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.

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