A golden chance for the United Nations to pick a leader who can truly represent the interests of all
For the first time, all 193 member states can interview the candidates, offering an opportunity to break with the undemocratic process of the past
Reform of the United Nations is necessary to keep the 70-year-old organisation effective, relevant and efficient. Administrative improvements are constantly being made and initiatives put forward so that the many departments, agencies, funds and other bodies can better coordinate their work. But it is at the uppermost levels, at the General Assembly and Security Council, that serious reform is needed and the lack of progress despite decades of discussion gives the impression of a reluctance for change. Transparency and fairness in choosing the next secretary general could alter perceptions and even give impetus to the process.
Nine people, four of them women, have already come forward to succeed Ban Ki-moon, whose second term ends on December 31. No woman has before been nominated, but that is not the only break with the past. Also for the first time, all 193 member states of the UN are being given a chance to interview the candidates. This is ground-breaking for the world body, which has not before had such openness in selecting its top diplomat.
Selection has in the past been secretive, with the five permanent members of the Security Council having the final say. The UN Charter does not allow the secretary general to come from any of the five – China, Britain, France, Russia and the US – but each can eliminate a nominee with a veto. Critics contend that the process leaves the secretary general beholden to the council. A principle of regional rotation has been closely followed and Eastern Europeans say it is their turn; most of those so far in the running are from that region.
The UN espouses democracy and equality; it would be good if a woman secretary general was chosen through all UN members having a say. But the job is about more than symbolism. The UN needs a leader who is both a secretary and a general, someone with skills, vision and drive. Such a person can help make the UN more representative and bring nations together to surmount challenges and attain goals.