Minister of Health Gao Qiang said yesterday he was confident Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, China's candidate for the World Health Organisation director-generalship, could win this week's election for the post. Speaking before a three-hour meeting with Dr Chan, Mr Gao said the knowledge and competence of Hong Kong's former director of health had been widely recognised. But the minister declined to say how much support Dr Chan has from the 34 member-states on the executive board of the WHO. Mr Gao was speaking ahead of the vote for the WHO job, which starts today. The executive board members will vote in secret to trim the list of 11 contenders for the job down to five. The shortlisted candidates will each undergo an hour's interview with the board before rounds of secret balloting. Voting will continue until one candidate secures 18 votes. The candidate will then be voted on by the World Medical Assembly on Thursday. Before seeing Mr Gao, Dr Chan did not speak to reporters waiting outside the Chinese Permanent Mission to the UN Office, where she met the minister. Dr Chan left after three hours through a side exit, out of the sight of reporters. Also arriving at the Chinese mission yesterday was Spain's candidate, Elena Salgado, who was accompanied by the Spanish ambassador to Geneva. She spent about 20 minutes in the office. Hong Kong Director of Health Lam Ping-yan said he would assist Dr Chan with any lobbying effort if needed. Mainland officials are confident that Dr Chan will be among the five shortlisted candidates. Also expected to be on the shortlist are Japan's Shigeru Omi, Mexico's Julio Frenk, Mozambique's Pascoal Mocumbi, and either Finland's Pekka Puska or France's Bernard Kouchner. Dr Chan earlier said she was keeping an 'open and relaxed attitude' about the election. 'I will do my best. I know people feel comfortable working with me, I take comfort in the recognition given to me by my international peers,' she said. The 59-year-old said she had not thought about what she would do if she was not elected. 'I have not thought about this question,' she said. 'My primary focus now is to work on the campaign and election. It is my duty not to distract myself with other issues but to concentrate and to do a good job in the elections.'