Expected Council Action
The Council will hold its first straw poll on 21 July to gauge the viability of candidates who have been nominated for the position of the next UN Secretary-General. Depending on the results of that initial straw poll, there may be a second one held before the end of the month. Several informal meetings with candidates are also expected.
For more on the 2016 selection process and the history of straw polls, please see our 30 June 2016 report on Appointing the Secretary-General: The Challenge for the Security Council.
Key Recent Developments
Since 18 December, 11 candidates have been formally nominated: Irina Bokova (Bulgaria), Helen Clark (New Zealand), Natalia Gherman (Moldova), António Guterres (Portugal), Vuk Jeremić (Serbia), Srgjan Kerim (former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia), Igor Lukšić (Montenegro), Susana Malcorra (Argentina), Vesna Pusić (Croatia) and Danilo Türk (Slovenia).
The General Assembly held informal dialogues—generally referred to as “hearings”— on 12-14 April and 7 June with the 11 candidates. At least one more hearing is expected in mid-July.
Since mid-April, Council members have begun to address its next steps. There have been a series of meetings among the ten elected members, as well as meetings among smaller groups of Council members who have taken a particular interest in this issue, or who have upcoming presidencies. In addition, it seems there may have been at least one meeting among the P5. Several papers on the procedure of the selection process were circulated. Egypt and Spain produced a paper on informal guidelines for the process, and Russia circulated a paper on the procedure for straw polls. In early June, soon after it took on the Council presidency, France circulated a comprehensive paper on the procedure for the 2016 selection process, which included an annex on the practice related to straw polls.
On 25 May, Council members discussed the selection process under “any other business”. A number of issues, including whether to meet with candidates nominated for the position, and the timing of the start of the straw polls, were considered. This was followed by an informal meeting on 7 June, where members discussed the issues raised in the French paper, including the starting date of straw polls and modalities for conducting them.
By mid-June, the Council came to an agreement on the date of the first straw poll, and the president of the Council sent the president of the General Assembly a letter informing him that the Council would start the process of consideration of the candidates on 21 July.
Discussion in the ad hoc working group on the revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly of its next draft resolution, which is expected to be adopted in September, began on 23 May. The initial draft refers to the developments in the Secretary-General selection process including the joint letter and circulation of names of candidates, and welcomes the organisation and convening of the informal dialogues. Negotiations are ongoing and language from the nonaligned members group on the recommendation of multiple candidates to the General Assembly by the Council, and the duration and renewability of the term of the Secretary-General, may be contentious.
A key issue is how to narrow the field of candidates. Using the system of one ballot paper per candidate, with the 11 currently nominated candidates there would be 165 ballots in total. Having three columns—“encouraged”, “discouraged” and “no opinion expressed”—may not be conducive to whittling down the number of candidates by persuading candidates with low scores to withdraw. If candidates do not drop out early, multiple rounds of straw polls will be needed before a formal vote can be taken. The effect of a “discouraged” indication signalling an intention to veto from a permanent member of a candidate otherwise commanding strong support could further lengthen the process.
A related issue is making a recommendation early enough to allow adequate preparation time for the new Secretary-General before the beginning of his or her term of office on 1 January 2017. The Council’s busy schedule in July could limit further straw polls in the remaining days of that month, and there appears to be reluctance to schedule straw polls in August, as several of the permanent representatives are expected to be on holiday. This could result in the bulk of straw polling being undertaken in September, giving rise to the possibility that a candidate may not be selected until an uncertain date in October or even November.
Another likely issue is whether, and if so when, colour-coded ballots should be used to give an indication of an intended veto by a permanent member. While there is agreement that the first straw poll will be undifferentiated, it is uncertain when the permanent members may want to bring in colour-coded ballots or the position elected members may take on this issue.
How to handle the results of the straw polls in a discreet and sensitive way is another key issue. Members need to agree what information candidates will be given following a round of straw polling and how to communicate this promptly so that the public does not hear before the candidates.
Options for narrowing the field of candidates include establishing a cut-off score below which candidates would not go forward into the next straw poll, and to find a way to discreetly encourage candidates with low scores to consider withdrawing. An option to force members to provide firm opinions would be to remove the “no opinion” column in the straw ballots at some point.
Regarding colour-coded ballots, one option is to use them as a last resort to determine if a veto is likely. Another less likely option is to consider not using colour-coded ballots at all during the straw poll process in order to exclude the influence of a veto from a permanent member before proceeding to a formal vote.
As happened in 2006, the Council could agree that the president of the Council communicate to the candidates and the permanent representatives of nominating states the number of ballots of “encouraged’, “discouraged” or “no opinion expressed” received by candidates, together with the highest and lowest scores among the candidates, without identifying the candidates who received these.
Informal meetings on the selection process have revealed differences related to timing of the start straw polls and modalities such as the use of colour-coded ballots. As the Council moves into this critical phase other issues related to support for different candidates are likely to come to the fore. While the permanent members, with their veto power, are expected to play a prominent role in this next phase, the elected members, many of whom have taken an active interest in this issue, may not be content to take a back seat. Except for October, elected members hold the presidency of the Council in the months where this issue is expected to be most active, giving them the opportunity to play a key role in shaping the process.
15 June 2016 letter from the Council president informing the General Assembly president of the start of consideration of candidates.
15 June 2016 letter from the General Assembly president to the member states informing them that the Council will start consideration of candidates.
15 December 2015 joint letter from the Council and General Assembly presidents setting in motion the process of selecting and appointing the next Secretary-General.
General Assembly Resolution
A/RES/69/321 (11 September 2015) was on the revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly included decisions on the selection of the Secretary-General.