Ban Ki-moon passes on the UN mantle

Shadow of failure over Syria hangs in the air

 

It is the paradox of a voting system in which everyone gets a vote and several privileged voters get a veto, that the successful candidate is never the most favoured candidate, but the least disfavoured, the least unacceptable.

It’s a far cry from what we might understand as democracy and a cumbersome, inefficient system. But perhaps, and certainly in the case of the United Nations, it is the only way to get buy-in from the big boys who can’t contemplate being outvoted by minnows.

The ongoing election to pick the next UN secretary general is a case in point, incorporating a phoney veneer of inclusiveness that gives the UN legitimacy, and a realpolitik reflecting the practice that the Security Council’s veto wielders will make the decision. In reality, the US and Russia.

Ban Ki-moon, whose tenure runs out at the end of the year and who is seen as more a safe, uncontroversial pair of hands than an inspiring leader, oversees 41,000 civilian staff and 16 peacekeeping operations with more than 101,000 troops and police. The annual UN budget is some $2.7 billion, its peacekeeping budget nearly $8 billion.

The council votes by exhaustive, eliminating ballots on 12 candidates when the 15 member states express “encouragement”, “discouragement” or “no opinion”, gradually winnowing the field. At the end the council will recommend a candidate to the 193-member General Assembly.

We have been through two rounds, with Antonio Guterres both former head of the UN refugee agency and Portuguese PM, in the clear lead with 11 “encourage” and two “discourage”.

How many veto members is unclear yet. Still very much in the running are two women candidates, Argentina’s foreign minister, Susana Malcorra, and Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova, the head of Unesco, supported by a vociferous lobby that says it is time for the organisation’s first woman sec gen. Another lobby insists that it is eastern Europe’s turn.

For the first time, in the name of transparency, the contest has been opened up to public hustings but, for fear of alienating members of the permanent five, most of the frontrunners have been coy. Sorely needed reform , notably of the Security Council membership and vetoes, has, unfortunately, barely been touched on. It is not in the gift of a secretary general, but he/she has the important right to push issues on to the council agenda. Ban’s failure to do so on Syria has been criticised.

On Thursday President Higgins linked the election with what he saw as that silence over Syria, warning that “We are living with the defeat of our best instincts and its instrument, the United Nations. Building an enduring peace requires not only support for the United Nations but a realistic, effective and morally informed multilateral architecture.”

The vital importance – if yet only a promise – of the UN to the struggle for world peace makes this election a significant opportunity to raise and press such issues.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.