European Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva, who doesn’t make a secret of her ambition to run for the post of UN Secretary General, has never been closer to obtaining the nomination of her government. But an important obstacle remains.
A fifth informal straw poll at the United Nations took place yesterday (26 September), with the 15 members of the Security Council voting anonymously for the nine candidates remaining in the race.
Former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres confirmed his lead, and Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova, until now the leading woman candidate, went down to sixth place.
Surprisingly, Serbia’s Vuk Jeremić ranked second, although it would be difficult to imagine that he could overcome a US veto later in the race. Slovakia’s foreign minister Miroslav Lajčák ranked third.
The procedure for electing the UN Secretary General comprises a series of straw polls. The first five polls were held with white ballot papers (same colour for each of the 15 permanent and non-permanent members of the UN Security Council). The next straw polls will be held with coloured ballots for the P5 (the five permanent members, USA, Russia, China, UK and France), who hold veto power.
— UN Tribune (@untribune) September 26, 2016
Bokova’s disappointing ranking signals that the Bulgarian centre-right Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who has been under pressure from the European’s People Party (EPP) and the Open Society Foundation of George Soros to “change horses” and nominate Georgieva, may decide to do so.
Following the fourth informal straw poll on 9 September, in which Bokova ranked fifth, Borissov said he would “consider the options” if Bokova did not come first or second in the next round of voting.
Difficult election context
Pressure on Borissov to replace Bokova with Georgieva grew stronger after the fourth straw poll. The Prime Minister knows however that this would be a difficult decision. Indeed, opinion polls show two thirds of Bulgarians prefer Bokova, who is close to the Socialists, as candidate. The country will hold presidential elections in November and the last thing Borissov needs is to give the Socialists ammunition to attack him over such a sensitive issue.
Georgieva, who attended the UN General Assembly gathering of world leaders in New York during the past week, no longer denies that she wants to join the race.
It is unclear however how the Commission President plans to replace her, in case she is selected by the Bulgarian government to run for the UN. Commission spokespersons have rejected views that Georgieva has been campaigning for the UN job throughout her entire mandate as Commissioner.
At the UN session, the Bulgarian foreign minister Daniel Mitov openly lobbied for Georgieva, while Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev omitted to mention Bokova’s name when he said in his speech that his country had a strong female candidate for the UN top job.
Sources told EurActiv that the Bulgarian ambassador in New York approached the UN secretariat asking for information about the procedure of changing candidates, and inquired when a hearing with the new candidate could take place.
In principle, nothing prevents a country to nominate a candidate even at this advanced stage of the decision-making. But this brinkmanship undermined Bokova, who actually scored not so bad, given that her own government openly undermined her candidacy.
However, the UN Secretariat told the Bulgarian ambassador that in order for Bokova to be replaced, she would need to file a letter announcing her withdrawal.
It appears extremely unlikely that Bokova would file such a letter. Bokova spoke to the Bulgarian national television shortly before the results of the poll became known, and explained that the race had its ups and downs. She however made it clear that she was determined to stay.
A government spokesperson yesterday declined to comment on the fifth straw poll until the cabinet holds a discussion on the matter. The cabinet usually meets on Wednesdays.
Borissov has floated the idea that Bulgaria could have two candidates, but it is extremely unlikely that UN procedures would allow such a thing.
The “internal competition” between the two Bulgarian candidates is likely to boost the chances of other countries. Portugal’s Guterres rides high and the current tensions at the UN over Syria may boost his chances.
The hardening of the US, whose UN ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, accuses Russia of “barbarism” in recent Syria attacks, has already impacted on the poll results.
All the candidates from Eastern Europe who seem acceptable to Russia have an increased number of “discourage” votes, compared to previous polls.
— WFUNA (@WFUNA) September 26, 2016
Conversely, Argentina’s Susanna Malcora, seen as a US-favoured candidate, has improved her ranking and is now the leading female candidate.
Also, the “no opinion” votes are now substantially fewer, and according to sources, no P5 country has used a “no opinion” vote.
The next straw poll will be held on 5 October, with use of colored ballots. Sources from the UN said the US and Russia wanted to finish the election process already in October. But in theory, nothing prevents the process to drag on until December. The incumbent Ban Ki-moon needs to be replaced from 1 January 2017.