What’s new about the UN’s leadership selection process?

The move marks a distinct change in the UN’s 70-year history, which has previously always chosen its next candidate behind closed doors.


In the interests of transparency, the United Nations has announced a new process for the selection of its Secretary-General.

Once they’ve been nominated by their country, a candidate’s nominating letters and resumes are being posted on the UN’s website.

They will then be subjected to several rounds of scrutiny, including hours of questioning by member states, and participation in public debates.

The most recent applicant is former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, who announced her candidacy via video.

“I’m Helen Clark, and I’m honoured to be nominated by my government for the position of United Nations Secretary-General. I’m running because I believe my style of leadership is needed and will help the United Nations face the serious challenges ahead. Kia ora (be well) and thank you for your support.”

Ms Clark’s application means there are now equal numbers of male and female candidates, including the former head of the UN’s refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, ex-assistant UN secretary-general and former Slovenian president (mr) Danilo Turk, and several former foreign ministers.

Traditionally the job has rotated around world regions, with Eastern Europe the only region to have never produced a Secretary-General, and which three of the current candidates call home.

However a resolution encouraging better geographical and gender balance adopted last September could ruin this competitive advantage.

It has also ignited hopes of the UN choosing a woman, with at least 53 countries lobbying for a female head.

One high-profile campaigner is Croatian candidate, Dr Vesna Pusic, speaking here at a recent International Peace Institute event.

“I am not a gender-neutral candidate, I can’t say that. I think that some things, considering the way the world today is, the way our societies are, some things, in order to evaluate you actually need to look only at the position of women. If women are terrorised, prevented from getting an education, prevented from getting jobs, it’s not a good society. And I think, under current circumstances you could use women as a universal litmus test of whether a society is functioning well and going in a good direction or not.”

The job description for the world’s top diplomatic post is vague, with the UN Charter itself calling the qualifications “subject to debate”.

Another explanation on its website calls the role “equal parts diplomat and advocate, civil servant and CEO ⦠a symbol of United Nations ideals and a spokesperson for the interests of the world’s peoples, in particular the poor and vulnerable.”

President of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, says the successful candidate will have the right mix of diplomatic and leadership skills.

“The quality we need is the authority to call on the Security Council and the general assembly at the right time, with the right proposals, to deal with peace and security, contain or prevent conflicts. A person who also has, through her or his contact with the global public opinion, an authority to call to the major and minor powers, to act timely, and I hope that the world and the world powers are ready to accept that the Secretary-General from the outset should be a strong, independent personality.”

Despite the changes, some processes remain the same, with the 15-member Security Council set to begin deliberations over its recommendation to the General Assembly in July.

The council’s five permanent members – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China – have the power to veto this choice.

The current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, is due to step down at the end of 2016.