What's In Blue

Posted Fri 26 Aug 2016

Third Straw Poll to Select the Next Secretary-General

On Monday (29th August), Council members will hold their third straw poll in the process to select the next Secretary-General.  Like the first two straw polls held on 21 July and 5 August, this ballot will be undifferentiated as between the elected and permanent members. The number of candidates has been reduced by only two since the first straw poll. Vesna Pusić; (Croatia) withdrew her nomination on 4 August, the day before the second straw poll, while Igor Lukšić (Montenegro) withdrew his on 23 August. At press time, the following candidates were expected to be voted upon in the third straw poll:

  1. Irina Bokova (Bulgaria), Director-General of UNESCO and former Minister of Foreign Affairs a.i.; nominated on 9 February 2016.
  2. Helen Clark (New Zealand), Administrator of UNDP and former Prime Minister; nominated on 4 April 2016.
  3. Christiana Figueres (Costa Rica), former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); nominated on 7 July 2016.
  4. Natalia Gherman (Moldova), former First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration; nominated on 18 February 2016.
  5. António Guterres (Portugal), former UN High Commissioner for Refugees and former Prime Minister; nominated on 29 February 2016.
  6. Vuk Jeremić; (Serbia), former Foreign Minister and former President of the 67th session of the General Assembly; nominated on 12 April 2016.
  7. Srgjan Kerim (Macedonia), former Minister of Foreign Affairs and former President of the 62nd session of the General Assembly; nominated on 18 December 2015.
  8. Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia), Minister of Foreign and European Affairs and former High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina; nominated on 25 May 2016.
  9. Susana Malcorra (Argentina), Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship, former Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary-General; nominated on 18 May 2016.
  10. Danilo Türk (Slovenia), former President of Slovenia and former UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs; nominated on 3 February 2016.

Communicating the results has continued to be a divisive issue among Council members.  While the results of the first two straw polls were not officially announced, they were quickly leaked and reported extensively in the media. Most members, with the exception of Russia, are now open to providing more information on the results of the straw polls. However, until there is consensus on this issue, no official information on the results can be conveyed by the president of the Council.

Results of the Straw Polls

Chart 1: Results of the First and Second Straw Polls


First Straw Poll (Encourage-Discourage-No Opinion Expressed)

Second Straw Poll (Encourage-Discourage-No Opinion Expressed)

António Guterres



Danilo Türk



Irina Bokova



Vuk Jeremić;



Srgjan Kerim



Helen Clark



Miroslav Lajčák



Susana Malcorra



Christiana Figueres



Natalia Gherman



Igor Lukšić







Chart 2:Changes in Votes




When voting in the second straw poll, Council members’ views on the candidates appear to have evolved in light of the results of the first straw poll.  The number of “discourage” votes went up by 64 percent, while the number of “encourage” votes dipped by 23 percent and the number of “no opinion expressed” ballots fell by 24 percent. It seems that in casting their ballots at the second straw poll, members were further indicating which candidates they would like to see stay in the race.

The Council’s decision to recommend a person for appointment as Secretary-General by the General Assembly is deemed a matter of substance which under Article 27 (3) of the Charter requires “an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of permanent members”. In the second straw poll, only one candidate, Guterres, garnered more than nine votes, the minimum number needed if this were a formal vote. 

In the first poll, Guterres was the only candidate without a “discourage” vote, but he received two in the second poll. All of the candidates received “discourage” votes in the second poll, with Guterres receiving the least. Many of the other candidates received a significant number of “discourage” votes, with six out of the eleven receiving seven or more “discourages”, which if sustained would deny them the required nine affirmative votes.  Given that these straw polls are secret and undifferentiated ballots, at this stage it is not known which of the “discourage” votes were from veto-bearing permanent members.

Past Straw Polls and Formal Ballots

The practice of straw polls in the Secretary-General selection started as a result of 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). That year, China used its veto to block Waldheim, supporting Salim, who was also blocked by Western veto. This led to 16 inconclusive ballots. Finally, Ambassador Olara Otunnu (Uganda), who was Council president in December, persuaded the two candidates to step aside and devised a way to determine which new candidates would not be vetoed by any of the P5. The permanent members were given a blue survey form with a list of nine new candidates and were asked to indicate which ones they would “discourage”. All 15 members were given a white form with the list of names and asked to indicate which candidates they would “encourage”. Using this system the Council identified Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (Peru) as generally acceptable, and he went forward to be elected Secretary-General in a formal vote on 11 December 1981. Straw polls using colour-coded ballots began in 1991, and were again used in 1996 and 2006.  (A more detailed history of the straw polls can be found in SCR’s 30 June report, Appointing the Secretary-General: The Challenge for the Security Council.)

Chart 3: Timing and Number of Rounds of Straw Polls and Formal Ballots


Number of Rounds and Dates of Undifferentiated Straw Polls

Number of Rounds and Dates of Colour- Coded Straw Polls

Formal Vote

Vote in General Assembly


Three rounds: 10 October, 21 October , 25 October, 11 November

One round: 12 November (13 candidates)

21 November   (13 candidates voted on: Boutros Boutros–Ghali was the only candidate with more than nine votes.)

13 December


Two rounds (with Boutros-Ghali as the only candidate): 18 November




One round (with four new candidates): 10 December








Six rounds (with  the four new candidates):10 December, 11 December (three rounds), 21 December (two rounds)


19 November (Boutros-Ghali, the only candidate, received a vote of 14-1 [veto])



13 December (Kofi Annan, the only candidate, chosen by acclamation)







17 December


Three rounds: 25 July, 14 September, 28 September

One round: 2 October (seven candidates)

9 October (Ban Ki-moon, the only candidate, chosen by acclamation)

13 October


Members have begun thinking about possible timing for moving to colour-coded ballots in the straw polls, as well as at which point it would be appropriate to move to a formal vote. Since the start of the practice of straw polls, with the exception of the 1996 consideration of reappointment of Boutros-Ghali, voting has moved from the straw polls to a formal ballot in a private meeting once it has been determined that there is a candidate that will not get a veto.  As the chart above shows, the point at which the straw polls moved from undifferentiated to a colour-coded ballot has varied over the years. In 1996, following a veto by the US against Boutros-Ghali in the formal ballot, four new candidates came into the race, and Council members held an undifferentiated straw poll followed by a colour-coded round on the same day. This was followed the next day by three colour-coded rounds. In both 1991 and 2006, straw polls moved from undifferentiated to colour-coded ballots after three rounds, with just one colour-coded round being held before a formal vote.

The Council has not always waited for full consensus before moving to a formal vote, nor has it always voted formally on only one candidate. For example, in 1991 following a colour-coded ballot in which the two leading candidates got less than 15 votes, but no veto, the Council proceeded to a formal vote on the 13 candidates. Boutros-Ghali was chosen for recommendation as Secretary-General by a vote of 11 in favour and four abstentions. Ban Ki-moon was selected after four straw polls, with colour-coded ballots used in the last of these. Ban received one “discourage” vote in the first three straw polls, and in the fourth, which used colour-coded ballots, he received 14 “encourage” votes and one “no opinion”, from an elected member.

Past elections also show that a candidate who receives a red ballot or “veto” in straw polls can go on to become Secretary-General. In 1996, Annan received a red ballot — believed to be from France—in every colour-coded straw poll, including in the last one where 14 members voted to encourage him. However, in the formal vote France chose not to use its veto, and Annan became the unanimously recommended candidate.

Past practice thus makes it clear that decisions on moving to colour-coded straw polls and to a formal vote are entirely open to the discretion of Council members.


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