Rudd, Clark rival for top job takes UN centre stage

The great rival to Kevin Rudd and Helen Clark for the United Nations’ top job has made her case, telling nations her views on preventing violent extremism, tackling the global refugee crisis and her record on gender parity.

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Irina Bokova, the Bulgarian-born head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), was impressive during her two-hour question-and-answer session at the UN headquarters in Manhattan on Tuesday.

Giving answers in English, French or Spanish, depending on the source of the query, Ms Bokova talked up her record in raising the number of women in senior level positions at UNESCO from 24 per cent to almost 44 per cent.

“I think with some imminent appointments that will come, we will achieve gender parity,” Ms Bokova said.

Australia’s delegation told Ms Bokova her views on senior management, the role of women and achieving gender parity “was an issue we were very interested in”.

Ms Bokova admitted she once believed quotas for women in management was not necessary because change would come naturally, but she switched when “I saw it did not happen”.

There is a push within the UN to elect its first female secretary-general when Ban Ki-moon steps down from the position at the end of the year.

Former New Zealand prime minister Ms Clark, who will be quizzed by the General Assembly on Thursday (Friday AEST), is considered a strong candidate, although the UN custom of rotating between regions is expected to favour a candidate from Eastern Europe.

Former Australian prime minister Mr Rudd has not officially announced he will be a candidate, but he has been reportedly working behind the scenes testing support for a run.

Ms Bokova, former prime minister of Montenegro Igor Luksic and former prime minister of Portugal Antonio Guterres, were the first three of the eight official candidates scheduled to be quizzed in the two-hour sessions.

Ms Bokova demonstrated plenty of steel, bulldozing over General Assembly president Mogens Lykketoft’s repeated requests for shorter answers to fit the tight schedule.

“Mr chair, I will try to be more precise,” she said with a smile toward the end of the proceedings.