UNITED NATIONS – The campaign for U.N. secretary-general is moving into high gear, as jet-setting candidates audition in New York, Washington and other capitals for a shot at the world’s most prominent diplomatic job.
Even though Kofi Annan’s second five-year term runs through December 2006, a handful of aspirants already are hard at work, advertising their qualifications at international summits and appealing for backing from the United States and other Security Council members.
Names of possible candidates being floated by U.N. diplomats include a Polish president, a Jordanian prince, a Turkish economist and an Indian novelist. Only two governments have officially declared candidates: Sri Lanka named diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala, and Thailand named Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, a Harvard-trained lawyer who has been campaigning for more than a year.
The new secretary-general will have to find a way to lead a 191-nation organization where bitter disagreements linger over the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and where tension has been rising between the major powers and poorer nations, some of which fear that the drive to streamline the bureaucracy will ultimately dilute their power. Annan’s successor also will be faced with restoring public confidence in an institution battered by revelations of sexual misconduct by U.N. peacekeepers and corruption in the oil-for-food program.
Asians contend that the next secretary-general should come from their region because an Asian has not held the job since 1971, when U Thant of Burma completed a 10-year term. Russia and China agree but the Bush administration opposes the concept of regional rotation and has urged aspirants from around the world to compete.
There are no specific qualifications for secretary-general. Previous officeholders have been drawn from the international diplomatic corps or, in Annan’s case, from the U.N. bureaucracy. The U.N. charter states that the chief is to be appointed by the General Assembly at the recommendation of the 15-nation Security Council. In practice, the five permanent veto-wielding members of the council – the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain – ultimately select the secretary-general by secret ballot.
The United States, which quietly supported Annan’s 1996 bid for the top job, has withheld public support for a specific candidate. But senior U.S. officials have said that they prefer a strong administrator.
Sathirathai emerged as the early front-runner, lining up a critical endorsement from the influential Association of South East Asian Nations. But he has failed to impress key delegates, say diplomats, and has offended sensitivities by trying to position himself as Asia’s consensus candidate before being endorsed by the U.N. Asian group.
Sathirathai’s cool reception has emboldened other challengers, including Dhanapala, Sri Lanka’s former ambassador to Washington, and South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who suggested recently that he or another senior Korean official would make a more “credible candidate.”
Central and eastern Europeans, who lament that one of their own has never held the job, have mounted a challenge to the Asians. President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland, a close ally in the U.S.-led war against Iraq, and Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberg, have emerged as potential contenders who could gain U.S. backing. But U.N. diplomats believe they are opposed by Russia.
Diplomats have mentioned Prince Zeid Hussein, Jordan’s U.N. ambassador; Kemal Dervis, a former Turkish finance minister who was recently appointed head of the U.N. development program; and Shashi Tharoor, an Indian novelist who runs the institution’s large public-relations bureaucracy.