The 2016 UN secretary-general race: A timeline of events

By Jenny Lei Ravelo 16 September 2016

Via Slideshare

In April, for the first time in its 70-year history, candidates vying for the position of U.N. secretary-general lined up before member states and the public to share their vision and position on highly contentious issues such as the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and the reform of the United Nations.

The race has proved to be unprecedented in the way the U.N. is vetting its next secretary-general. Many of those in positions of power at the U.N. General Assembly and U.N. Security Council have made a push for a more transparent process in the selection of the next U.N. head, while other groups have come together to rally behind a female to take charge of an institution struggling to uphold peace and human rights.

The race has also seen high-profile heads of different U.N. agencies and programs competing for the position, although candidates are now dropping and entering rapidly. Bulgaria is rumored to be considering another candidate — fellow Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva — in place of Irina Bokova after the UNESCO director-general has failed to top the council polls. Christiana Figueres, meanwhile, has dropped out of the race, announcing her candidacy withdrawal on Twitter.

Some candidates have had the chance to meet with members of the U.N. Security Council, in whose hands their fates largely lie. The U.N. Security Council has been the deciding body for who sits at the helm of the U.N. since its establishment.

Who’s still in the race?

Srgjan Kerim
António Guterres
Irina Bokova
Natalia Gherman
Danilo Türk
Helen Clark
Vuc Jeremić
Susana Malcorra
Miroslav Lajčák

The number of candidates for the U.N. secretary-general position has come down to 10 after Vesna Pusić, Igor Lukšić and most recently Christiana Figueres dropped out of the race.

In its early years, candidates were nominated by the council’s permanent members. Today, U.N. member states are given the chance to nominate their own candidates, but the Security Council maintains influence over who wins through a vote of “encouragement.” A candidate who gets at least nine encouraged votes from the Security Council, including all five permanent members, is often determined as the winner. The result is handed over to the U.N. General Assembly in a form of recommendation, but has traditionally predicted the final result.

Meanwhile, the results of the council’s straw polls — an indicative measure of where candidates stand before the council — have dashed campaigners’ hopes for a woman secretary-general. Bokova, who had the highest encouraged votes among women candidates, came out third in the first poll, but dropped to fifth place in the second poll. Susana Malcorra of Argentina rose to third in the second poll after getting eight encouraged votes, but with a huge discourage vote, her chances of winning aren’t as clear.

The list of candidates was whittled to 10 after Vesna Pusić and Igor Lukšić dropped out of the race following the first and second straw polls, respectively. António Guterres meanwhile has consistently topped the list. In the fourth straw poll on Sept. 9, he earned the most encouraged votes at 12 and the least discouraged votes with two.

There’s no set date on when the U.N. Security Council will decide to put the search for the next secretary-general to a real vote, but it will likely be in October, which is when Ban Ki-moon was appointed as the U.N.’s eigth secretary-general in 2006. Russia and China, two permanent members, appeared to be especially keen in following this tradition, according to a Security Council Report.

The council will hold its fifth straw poll on Sept. 26.

Read more international development news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive the latest from the world’s leading donors and decision-makers — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

Jenny lei ravelo 400x400
Jenny Lei Ravelo@JennyLeiRavelo

Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.

Join the Discussion