Helen Clark to face UN General Assembly

  • 13/04/2016
Helen Clark to face UN General Assembly

Helen Clark to face UN General Assembly

One of the world's most coveted jobs is up for grabs and former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark is a leading contender.

The United Nations begins its search for a new secretary-general at its Manhattan headquarters today when the first three of eight candidates who have formally entered the race venture into the cavernous General Assembly.

Over the next three days the candidates, including Ms Clark who has her turn on Friday (NZ time), will make a 10-minute pitch to the assembly's 193 member states.

The candidates will then face a potential two-hour question and answer session.

General Assembly president Mogens Lykketoft has urged nation representatives to "pose short, focused questions" during what is a new format designed to be transparent.

Bulgaria's Irina Bokova, chief of UNESCO, is the favourite to replace South Korean career diplomat Ban Ki-moon, who steps down from the UN's top job at the end of the year.

Ms Clark is also considered a strong chance.

But, whispers in the corridors of UN headquarters and diplomatic circles point to a handful of well-credentialled candidates strategically holding back on formally throwing their hat into the ring.

They include former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, Argentinian foreign minister and Mr Ban's former chief of staff at the UN, Susana Malcorra, and former Serbian foreign minister Vuk Jeremic.

There's a feeling the eight who walk into the General Assembly this week won't survive, opening lanes for a new wave of applicants.

Richard Gowan, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said choosing a winner this week would be "like trying to predict who will win the Ashes after the first day of the first Test".

"I do think a lot of the candidates who are in the race now have a pretty short shelf life," Mr Gowan told NZN.

Working against Ms Clark is the UN custom of rotating between regions, as it’s Eastern Europe's turn this time.

David Bosco, an assistant professor of international politics at American University in Washington DC, recently wrote that Ms Clark would "have a better shot if her name were Clarkova or Clarkili".

In her favour is a push, led by the US, for the UN to appoint its first female secretary-general.

Mr Rudd has previously said Ms Clark will be a strong candidate and repeatedly denied he was in the running, but he’s been quiet in recent days.

"Mr Rudd has nothing to add to his previous comments on the UNSG candidacy," his spokesperson said earlier this week.

There are different theories as to why Mr Rudd might be holding back.

"What most people have assumed that Rudd is planning to do is let that [this week's General Assembly appearances] pass and then step into the race and say, 'I really felt it was right to let eastern European candidates go first for various reasons like UN protocol and it was their turn to have first bite of the apple, but now I don't feel that any of them are fully compelling so here I am'," Mr Gowan said.

"Another reading of his behaviour is perhaps he has concluded that one or other of the permanent five members of the Security Council would simply veto him under any circumstances.

"Perhaps either Beijing or Moscow most likely probably don't want him, in which case he might be trying to come up with a way of avoiding entering the race formally so he does not have to go through the embarrassment of being beaten.

"I think the most likely explanation is the first."