Bulgaria puts forward Bokova’s candidacy for UN Secretary-General

Irina Bokova, in her UNESCO office. [Georgi Gotev]

The race for the post of UN Secretary-General is now open, after Bulgaria announced the candidacy of Irina Bokova for the post of UN Secretary General.

Bokova, 62, who currently leads the United Nations largest agency UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, for some time now been considered a potential candidate to replace Ban Ki-moon, whose second term expires on 31 December 2016.

On Friday (9 January), Bulgaria’s centre-right Prime Minister Boyko Borissov announced that his government backs Bokova for the UN top job.

Bokova’s political background is in the Bulgarian centre-left. The previous Bulgarian government, in which the Socialist party was the senior coalition partner, had already nominated Bokova for the UN job. However, the move was made in the Socialists’ last days in office, and some doubts remained over Borissov’s intentions.

>> Read: Bulgaria nominates Bokova for UN Secretary General

It is the turn of Eastern Europe to lead the world organisation, and Bokova is seen as well-placed. She may also become the first woman to take the post.

Bokova, a Bulgarian diplomat who was in charge of her country’s EU integration in the 1990s, became the first woman and the first eastern European to lead UNESCO, in 2009. Bokova studied in the former Soviet Union and in the USA, and speaks French, English, Spanish and Russian fluently.

>> Read: Bulgaria’s Bokova becomes first woman to lead UNESCO

The Bulgarian was reelected in 2013 for another 4-year mandate, despite the organisation’s difficulties, after the United States stopped paying its dues in 2011, according to US internal rules, to protest its granting of full membership to the Palestinians.

But Bokova has been able to reform UNESCO, reduce its spending in agreement with the agency’s two unions, maintain the scale of the agency’s worldwide activities, and keep the Americans on board, at least politically.

The UN Secretary-General is elected by the UN General assembly, upon the recommendation of the Security Council.

The previous Secretary-Generals having been Ghana’s Kofi Annan (1997-2006), Egypt’s Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992-1996), Peru’s Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (1982-1991), Austria’s Kurt Waldheim (1972-1981), Myanmar’s U Thant (1961-1971), Sweden’s Dag Hammarskjöld (1953-1961) and Norway’s Trygve Lie (1946-1952).

But the battle for the top UN job is only at its beginning. The names of former Commission Presidents Romano Prodi and José Manuel Barroso have been mentioned as possible candidates, as well of former President of Slovenia Danilo Türk, and two Slovak diplomats, Jan Kubiš and Miroslav Laj?ák.

France’s Le Figaro recently wrote that the favourite is Bokova. “This Bulgarian diplomat fits the job description, as she is both US- and Russia- compatible, and as a militant Francophone, she will have the support of Paris,” Le Figaro wrote.

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