As the tenure of serving United Nations scribe Ban Ki Moon slowly winds down, the Security Council has agreed to the candidacy of António Guterres as the new UN Secretary General.
The 66 year old former Portuguese Prime Minister and current head of the UN refugee agency, will take over from Ban Ki-moon in January.
In a rare show of unity, all 15 ambassadors from the Security Council emerged from the sixth in a series of straw polls to announce that they had agreed on Guterres, who was UN high commissioner for refugees for a decade, and that they would confirm the choice in a formal vote on Thursday.
The Russian UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters:
“Today after our sixth straw poll we have a clear favourite and his name is António Guterres “
“We have decided to go to a formal vote tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock, and we hope it can be done by acclamation.”
The announcement of the new UN Secretary General came as a surprise as many observers had expected the selection process to go on late into October as the major powers struggled to promote their favourite candidates.
And some thought that Russia, currently holding the presidency of the security council, would block Guterres, as Moscow had said it wanted an eastern European in the top UN job.
As the UN’s refugee chief, Guterres persistently appealed to the conscience of the international community over the worst refugee crisis since the second world war, and he vowed to carry on being a spokesman for the downtrodden if he became UN secretary general.
“I am totally committed because of what I felt as head of UNHCR for 10 years, You can’t imagine what it is to see levels of suffering that are unimaginable.”
The fact that he was promising to be an activist on humanitarian causes also makes Guterres victory surprising, as both Russia and China in particular have been resistant to outspoken activists in top UN posts.
Also there was widespread sentiment this year that it was time for a woman to run the organisation for the first time in its 71-year history and there were several strong female candidates in the contest.
The abrupt end to the contest was a humiliating blow for the European commission’s vice-president, Kristalina Georgieva, who made a belated entry to the race last week. Her candidacy only lasted a few days.