Make election of UN secretary-general an open, democratic process: India

By Arul Louis,

United Nations : With the election of a secretary-general looming next year amid rising major global challenges, India has called for making the selection of a successor to Ban Ki-moon an open, democratic process where all member nations have a greater say.

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Permanent Representative Asoke Kumar Mukerji told a panel considering reforms to the election process that the Security Council should present a slate of candidates, rather than just one, to the General Assembly, which should elect one of them by two-thirds of the votes.

In election process that has been followed so far, the Security Council members-essentially the five veto-wielding permanent ones-agree on one candidate leaving it to the General Assembly to vote for or against the candidate. In practical terms though, the other UN members do not have a real choice and the General Assembly simply elects by acclamation the person anointed by the permanent members through their back-room deals.

This process was recommended as “desirable” in a 1946 General Assembly resolution, but was not mandatory. Mukerji said that resolution should be amended to incorporate the proposals he made.

“The United Nations faces its most serious tests both in terms of credibility and performance,” Mukerji said, and the election of Ban’s successor “gives us an historic opportunity to change and improve the existing selection process of the Secretary-General in the interests of the United Nations system in general, and the Assembly’s prerogatives in particular.”

For India, which has been campaigning against the concentration of powers in the hands of the Security Council, the forthcoming election is an opportunity to extend this mission. “The Secretary-General is often unfortunately perceived to be a Secretary vis-à-vis the Security Council and a General vis-à-vis the General Assembly,” Mukerji said. “This perception has to be reversed.”

He said that qualifications required of the candidates should be transparently drawn up and these should include “commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter, extensive leadership, administrative and diplomatic experience.” In addition, regional rotation and gender equality should be taken into account, he said.

Under the system of regional rotation followed since the election of Myanmar’s U Thant in 1961, it is a European’s turn to follow Asia’s Ban. No East European has served in the UN’s highest job, which has been held by three from the West, and neither has a woman. Therefore, it is speculated that a woman from East Europe will be a strong candidate next year.

In opening up the process, Mukerji said, “We feel that candidates must be required to present their views to all member-states of the General Assembly” and adequate time should be allowed for formal presentations and interaction with member nations.

Canada, which has been campaigning for over a decade for reforms, also backed establishing a set of core criteria for candidates. Canada’s Ambassador Guillermo E. Rishchynski said candidates should be given an opportunity to meet with representatives of UN members.

There is growing support within the UN and at the grassroots for reforms broadly reflecting those proposed by India.

An organization, “1 for 7 Billion,” which is backed by about 50 nongovernmental organisations like Amnesty International, Forum Asia and Avaaz, has launched a grassroots campaign for reforms. Many of its proposals parallel India’s and Monday it appealed to concerned citizens around the world to joins its campaign through social media and mass media and by lobbying goverenments.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected])