Research Report

Posted 3 June 2016
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Security Council Elections 2016


This is Security Council Report’s annual Research Report on Security Council Elections. To view the full report, please download the PDF here.


The 70th session of the UN General Assembly is scheduled to hold elections on 28 June for non-permanent members of the Security Council for 2017-2018. This is the first time that elections are being held six months ahead of the beginning of the term of office. Except for the Council elections in 1946, which took place in January, the earliest that they have been held in the last 70 years has been late September. Five of the ten non-permanent seats on the Security Council will be filled and they will be distributed regionally as follows:

• one seat for the African Group (currently held by Angola);

• one seat for the Group of Asia and the Pacific Small Island Developing States (the Asia-Pacific Group, currently held by Malaysia);

• one seat for the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States (GRULAC, currently held by Venezuela); and

• two seats for the Western European and Others Group (WEOG, currently held by New Zealand and Spain). 

The Eastern European Group is not contesting any seat this year as its seat (held by Ukraine through 2017) is up for election every other year.

The five new members elected this year will take up their seats on 1 January 2017 and will serve through 31 December 2018. The procedures governing elections to the Security Council are described in detail in Annex 1.

Ethiopia and Bolivia are running unopposed, having been each nominated by their regional groups, the African Group and GRULAC, respectively. Both countries have previously served on the Council on two occasions: Ethiopia in 1967-1968 and 1989-1990, and Bolivia in 1964-1965 and 1978-1979.

Races for the Asia-Pacific Group and WEOG seats are being contested this year. Kazakhstan and Thailand are competing for one seat from the Asia-Pacific Group, while Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden are competing for two WEOG seats. With the exception of Kazakhstan, all candidates have served on the Council in the past: Thailand on one occasion (1985-1986); Italy on six (1959-1960, 1971-1972, 1975-1976, 1987-1988, 1995-1996 and 2007-2008); the Netherlands on five (1946, 1951-1952, 1965-1966, 1983-1984 and 1999-2000); and Sweden on three (1957-1958, 1975-1976 and 1997-1998). 

Of all the 2016 candidates, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden have the most prior Security Council experience. Kazakhstan is one of 68 UN member states that has never served on the Council (accounting for approximately 35 percent of the membership).

A country must obtain votes from two-thirds of the member states present and voting at the General Assembly session in order to secure a seat on the Council, regardless of whether the election is contested. This means at least 129 votes are required to win a seat if all 193 UN member states vote. (A member state can be prohibited from voting as a result of arrears in payment of financial contributions, in accordance with Article 19 of the UN Charter.) 

Elections to the Council, as with other principal organs of the UN, require formal balloting, even if candidates have been endorsed by their regional group and are running unopposed. If no candidate obtains the required number of votes in the first round, voting in the next round is restricted to the candidates that received the most votes. In this restricted ballot, the number of countries included is limited to twice the number of vacant seats; for example, if one seat is available, only the two countries that received the most votes in the first round could contest the next round. (Any votes for other candidates during this restricted voting round are considered void.) This restricted voting process can continue for up to three rounds of voting. If, at that point, a candidate still fails to garner the minimum number of votes, unrestricted voting is reopened for up to three rounds. This pattern of restricted and unrestricted voting continues until a candidate is successful in securing the required two-thirds of the votes.

In theory, it is possible, although unlikely, that a country running unopposed might not garner the requisite votes of those present and eligible to vote in the General Assembly in the first round of voting. Such a country may then be challenged in subsequent rounds and ultimately not obtain a seat.

Historically, there have been a number of instances in which extended rounds of voting were required to fill a contested seat. This was more common before the Council’s enlargement from 11 to 15 members in 1966, and it resulted in a number of agreements on split terms. Despite the enlargement, extended voting has occurred a few times more recently. Such situations have been solved by the withdrawal of one of the contenders or the election of a compromise candidate, rather than by agreement on a split term. 

As mentioned above, this will be the first time that elections are held in the month of June. Following concerns that elected Council members did not have enough time to prepare for their terms, and to have enough time and flexibility in the event of any unforeseen circumstances, the General Assembly decided to hold the elections about six months before the members elected assume their responsibilities.

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