Antonio Guterres extends front-runner status in UN race

Former Portuguese prime minister cements position after third Security Council vote

Former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres has cemented his position as front runner to become the next UN secretary general after the latest secret ballot on the Security Council.

In the third informal vote on the 15-member council, ballots were cast to encourage or discourage each of the 10 remaining candidates. Mr Guterres maintained his position at the head of the pack, receiving 11 encourage, three discourage and one no opinion, according to leaked results.

A former head of the UN refugee agency, Mr Guterres has emerged as front runner to succeed the South Korean Ban Ki-moon despite speculation that the post would go to an eastern European and calls – including from Mr Ban himself – for a woman to be given the job for the first time in the UN's history.

Permanent members


With the Security Council due to recommend a name to the UN General Assembly by late October, however, there is still time for the Portuguese to be overtaken. If any of his three “discourage” votes came from any of the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the council, his chances would he dealt a serious blow. That will only become clear later in the process, when colour-coded ballot papers are expected to be introduced to distinguish the “P5” from the other 10 members of the council.

Behind Mr Guterres after the latest round is Miroslav Lajcak, Slovakia's foreign minister, who received nine "encourage", five "discourage" and one "no opinion". Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian diplomat who currently heads the UN education and culture agency, Unesco, emerged in joint third place alongside former Serbian foreign minister Vuk Jeremic. Both had seven "encourage", five "discourage" and three "no opinion". Ms Bokova, the highest-placed woman in the latest ballot, was among the early favourites for the job.

Rival candidates

Others who were expected to challenge strongly have struggled to keep pace. Argentinian foreign minister Susana Malcorra dropped to fifth spot from third, followed by former Macedonian foreign minister Srgjan Kerim, and former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, who heads the UN development programme.

Former Slovenian president Danilo Turk, Moldova's former foreign minister Natalia Gherman and former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica filled the last three spots.

The straw polls are intended to narrow the field and allow a consensus candidate to emerge. Former Croatian foreign minister Vesna Pusic dropped out of the race prior to the second ballot, while Montenegro foreign minister Igor Luksic withdrew last week.

Civil society groups and nearly a third of the 193 UN member states have pushed for the first woman secretary general. Four of those countries – Japan, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela – are on the security council.

Just as significant, however, may be the argument made by many states, including Russia, that under the convention of geographical rotation in place since the early 1990s, it's the turn of eastern Europe to take the top job. Six of the 10 remaining candidates are from that region.

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is the Editor of The Irish Times