Diplomats: Portugal's Guterres tops fifth poll for UN chief

AP News
Posted: Sep 26, 2016 12:45 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Portugal's former Prime Minister Antonio Guterres kept his spot as the first choice to succeed Ban Ki-moon as the next U.N. secretary-general, and was the only candidate to get the minimum nine required "yes" votes in the Security Council's fifth informal poll on Monday, U.N. diplomats said.

Guterres, who was the U.N. refugee chief until last December, got 12 "encourage" votes, 2 "discourage" votes, and one "no opinion," said the diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the results were supposed to be kept secret.

Far behind in second place was Serbia's former Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic with an 8-6-1 vote and Slovakia's Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak who had an 8-7-0 vote. Slovenia's former President Danilo Turk and Argentina's Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra were tied for fourth with votes of 7-7-1, the diplomats said.

The key question for Guterres is whether one of the five veto-wielding council members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — opposes his candidacy. That should become clear in the next straw poll in early October, when the five permanent members will use colored ballots for the first time.

By tradition, the job of secretary-general has rotated among regions. Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe have all held the post. East European nations, including Russia, argue that they have never had a secretary-general and it is their turn.

There has also never been a woman secretary-general and more than 50 nations are campaigning to elect the first female U.N. chief, along with many organizations.

In the nine-way race, the fact that the highest-ranked woman, Malcorra, was tied for fourth left many diplomats disappointed. That's because it all but rules out a female secretary-general — unless a woman makes a late bid for the world's top diplomatic post which is still possible.

In Monday's "straw" poll, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova of Bulgaria was in sixth place with a 6-7-2 vote and former Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who heads the U.N. Development Program, were tied for seventh with votes of 6-9-0. Moldovan Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman was last with a vote of 3-11-1, the diplomats said.

Angola's U.N. Ambassador Ismael Gaspar Martins said "there are some now who should read not my lips but the numbers."

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said candidates may be waiting around for the next poll with colored ballots to see the "discourage" votes from the five permanent members.

"But if they're towards the bottom then they haven't got the nine positive votes," he said. "Then, whether or not they have any vetoes is a bit irrelevant — because you've got to get nine positive votes and no vetoes."