Horse-trading begins now nominees are all in the ring

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 September, 2006, 12:00am

Lobbying to become the next director-general of the World Health Organisation is set to intensify after last night's formal announcement of nominations.

Insiders at the United Nations describe the rounds of secret balloting as far from transparent - fertile ground for horse-trading in the run-up to decisive November meetings.

In keeping with the selection process for other UN jobs, political and diplomatic favours unrelated to health are expected to be offered as inducements to sway members of the WHO's executive board.

Competition is expected to be particularly fierce this year given the relatively high-profile candidacies of Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun and early frontrunner Shigeru Omi of Japan, a 16-year veteran of the WHO's bureaucracy.

Traditional powers such as the US and Europe have yet to declare any open support. Europe has acted as a bloc before but it is not yet clear whether European members will rally around French candidate Bernard Kouchner, a founder of the doctors' aid group Medecins sans Frontieres.

'I'd be naive to say horse-trading does not happen,' said one WHO official. 'It happens before and even during the voting, but ultimately ... each member of the executive board gets just one vote.'

The 34 board members are lumped into regional groupings - but not in a way that would affect voting. Each member votes in secret and as an individual.

'There may be discussions among groupings, but they don't vote as a bloc,' the official said.

With close attention being paid to the rivalries within the western Pacific grouping of Australia, China, Japan and Singapore, Japanese officials were yesterday talking up the strengths of Dr Omi.

Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Noriyuki Shikata insisted that Dr Omi's qualifications - rather than any horse-trading - held the key to his strong chances.

'We have not tried to offer inducements of any kind ... instead we will be trying to demonstrate his extensive qualifications,' Mr Shikata said. 'We think he has demonstrated his leadership abilities and achieved great accomplishments.'

Dr Omi built his profile as regional director of the western Pacific region during the Sars crisis and ongoing outbreaks of bird flu. Earlier, he led work on the eradication of polio.

Both Dr Chan and Dr Omi are expected to be shortlisted at the start of the board's voting session on November 6 in Geneva. Members will vote to whittle nominees down to just five in the first round. Rounds of secret voting take place until a single candidate emerges with at least 51 per cent of the vote.

A decision must be finalised by November 8, when the executive board's choice is put to the assembly of the WHO's 192 member states the following day.