October 2016 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 September 2016
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Secretary-General Appointment

Expected Council Action

Council members will hold their first colour-coded straw poll in early October as a further test of the viability of candidates who have been nominated for the position of the next Secretary-General. Since July, five undifferentiated straw polls have been held, but this one will provide the first clear indication of which candidates could face a veto in a formal vote. The Council will then decide whether it is ready to move to a formal vote on a resolution conveying its recommendation to the General Assembly for the next Secretary-General.

The system of using straw polls in the selection of the UN Secretary-General was an innovation created to break the deadlock in 1981 between Kurt Waldheim (Austria), who after serving two terms as Secretary-General had chosen to run for an unprecedented third term, and Salim Ahmed Salim (Tanzania). Colour-coded ballot papers differentiating between the permanent and elected members, used for the first time in 1991, have been part of every selection process ever since.

The number of colour-coded rounds has varied. In 1991 and 2006 the Council moved to a formal vote after only one colour-coded ballot, whereas in 1996 there were six colour-coded straw polls before the Council recommended Kofi Annan in a formal ballot. It is unclear at this stage which of the leading candidates may face a red ballot or veto from permanent members.

Key Recent Developments

On 1 September, Council members discussed the selection of the next Secretary-General during the regular monthly breakfast of Council permanent representatives hosted by New Zealand, as president of the Council for September. New Zealand informed members that because it has a candidate vying for the position of Secretary-General, it had asked Russia, as the next president of the Council, to manage the conduct of any straw polls in September. Members decided at the breakfast to hold straw polls on 9 and 26 September, followed by the first colour-coded straw poll in early October.

Council members have thus now held five straw polls on 21 July, 5 August, 29 August, 9 September and 26 September, all of which were undifferentiated as between the elected and permanent members. All 12 candidates who had been formally nominated at the time took part in the first straw poll. By the time of the fifth straw poll, three candidates—Vesna Pusić (Croatia), Igor Lukšić (Montenegro) and Christina Figueres (Costa Rica)— had withdrawn. At press time, a new candidate, Kristalina Georgieva, had just been nominated by Bulgaria, which withdrew its support for Irina Bokova.

The results of the first five straw polls were as follows:

(Votes are in the order of Encourage-Discourage-No Opinion Expressed)

Candidate    First Straw  Poll               Second Straw Poll                   Third Straw Poll                 Fourth Straw Poll                 Fifth Straw Poll            
António Guterres 12-0-3 11-2-2 11-3-1 12-2-1 12-2-1
Danilo Türk 11-2-2 7-5-3 5-6-4 7-6-2 7-7-1
Irina Bokova 9-4-2 7-7-1 7-5-3 7-5-3 6-7-2
Vuk Jeremić 9-5-1 8-4-3 7-5-3 9-4-2 8-6-1
Srgjan Kerim 9-5-1 6-7-2 6-7-2 8-7-0 6-9-0
Helen Clark 8-5-2 6-8-1 6-8-1 6-7-2 6-9-0
Miroslav Lajčák 7-3-5 2-6-7 9-5-1 10-4-1 8-7-0
Susana Malcorra 7-4-4 8-6-1 7-7-1 7-7-1 7-7-1
Christiana Figueres 5-5-5 5-8-2 2-12-1 5-10-0  
Natalia Gherman 4-4-7 3-10-2 2-12-1 3-11-1 3-11-1
Igor Lukšić 3-7-5 2-9-4      
Vesna Pusić 2-11-2        


In all five undifferentiated straw polls, Guterres has been the front runner, while the second spot and at least three of the top five spots have been taken by Eastern Europeans. The leading woman candidates have been Malcorra and Bokova; in the fifth straw poll, they were in fourth (tied with Turk) and sixth places, respectively.

Developments in the General Assembly

The 2016 resolution on the revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly was adopted on 13 September. Following up last year’s resolution, which contained significant language on the selection of the Secretary-General, this year’s resolution highlights developments in this area, including the December 2015 joint letter and the informal dialogues in the General Assembly. It also stresses that the appointment to senior posts should be inclusive and transparent.

The Accountability, Coherence and Transparency group (ACT) and the Non Aligned Movement sent letters, on 18 May and 29 June respectively, to the president of the General Assembly, on the drafting of the appointment resolution and a possible facilitation process. At the invitation of the president of the General Assembly, the co-chairs of the Ad hoc Working Group on the Revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly organised a meeting on 29 August. Twenty-eight delegations participated, with most of them urging the immediate appointment of facilitators to allow swift adoption of the appointment resolution once the Council made its recommendation. Among those that raised concerns about having facilitators and a course of action which might cause division and controversy were China, France, the UK and US; Russia said it would not oppose the appointment of facilitators. On 23 September, the president of the General Assembly issued a letter informing the membership that he would ask two Special Advisers from his office to consult with member states on the best way forward towards the appointment resolution. He also said that it is his intention to convene a General Assembly meeting to engage in substantive dialogue with the Secretary-General-designate.

On 13 September, the outgoing president of the General Assembly sent a letter to the president of the Council on the Secretary-General appointment process, recapping the cooperation between the Council and the General Assembly and setting out the expectations of the membership for the remainder of the process, as well as offering suggestions for improving the process. On the same day, he sent a letter to the incoming president of the General Assembly conveying developments relating to the possible appointment of co-facilitators and the appointment resolution. The interest in having co-facilitators to draft the appointment resolution stems from the desire of many in the membership to have a more substantive resolution which could address issues such as the term of appointment of the next Secretary-General and the appointment of senior officials.

Key Issues

The key issue is agreeing on a candidate within a timeframe that will allow the next Secretary-General adequate preparation time before the end of the current Secretary-General’s term.

An important issue is how to avoid a prolonged period of straw polling as a result of competing vetoes, and if this were to occur, how to break the deadlock.

A key issue in relation to late entry candidates would be ensuring that they go through the same steps in the selection process, including the General Assembly informal dialogues and a private meeting with Council members.

Since the ballots in the colour-coded straw polls will be secret, not knowing which permanent member has cast a negative vote may become an issue.

A further issue is whether to include in the recommendation resolution the proposed term of office, when some member states maintain that this is a matter for decision by the General Assembly, which may wish to consider a single term.


Among the options if the straw polls appear deadlocked are:

• having a frank informal discussion about the candidates in order to ascertain the

concerns of those who are “discouraging” leading candidates;

• suggesting that permanent members make known their votes in the interest of greater transparency, and in order to allow more productive Council discussions on a possible candidate;

• encouraging new candidates to come forward; and

• conducting a formal ballot even if the leading candidates are being “discouraged” by a permanent member, to determine if that discourage will translate into a veto.

Council Dynamics

Although there have been five undifferentiated straw polls, given that polling is secret, there is no conclusive knowledge of Council members’ positions on the candidates. Public statements from some Council members have sometimes revealed a preference for a particular candidate, gender or region. However, Council members are aware that ultimately votes will be cast based on a number of different considerations, and that members’ true positions may not be revealed until the final stages of the process, if at all.

Some members have indicated that they preferred not to have any new candidates at this point, while others have been more open to the possibility, but have made it clear that new candidates should go through the same process as the other candidates.

A few elected members are of the view that once the colour-coded ballots begin, their role will diminish. However, it is clear that any candidate needs the votes of a significant number of elected members, as well as no veto, in order to be a serious contender for the position.

UN Documents on the Secretary-General Appointment

General Assembly Resolution

A/RES/70/305 (13 September 2016) was on the revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly.


15 July 2016 letter from the president of the General Assembly containing the 18 May letter from ACT and the 29 June letter from Algeria as chair of the Non-Aligned Movement on the selection and appointment process of the next Secretary-General and requesting the co-chairs of the Ad-hoc Working Group on revitalization of the General Assembly to explore members states’ views.

S/2016/784 (13 September 2016) was a letter from the president of the 70th session of the General Assembly to the president of the Council and the president of the 71st session of the General Assembly on the changes in the selection process and future improvements.

23 September 2016 letter from the president of the General Assembly informing the membership that he would ask two Special Advisers to consult with member states.



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