Inside the glass house: by Thalif Deen

25th March  2001

Will Asia seek UN top post?

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NEW YORK— When Dr Gamani Corea was holding court in the UN delegate's lounge about five years ago meeting and greeting friends, he was asked by a journalist what he thought of the bitter dispute between then Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and the United States over the Egyptian's determination to win re-election for a second term.

Dr. Corea pondered for a while and said he couldn't figure out why anyone in his right mind would want such a demanding job at all — and he was right. 

While holding the job himself, Trygve Lie of Norway, the first UN Secretary-General, once admitted it was "the most impossible job on this earth." 

Boutros-Ghali defied the veto-wielding United States and eventually lost his bid for re-election — although 14 of the 15 members of the Security Council overwhelmingly voted for him. The one US veto destroyed his chances of re-election.

Unfortunately for him, his re-election campaign also coincided with the US presidential elections of 1996, and for a moment, he became an object of undeserved ridicule.

Patrick Buchanan, a right wing Republican and presidential aspirant, kept mocking at Boutros-Ghali calling him by a nickname: "Boo-Boo Ghali".

Expressing fears that American troops may one day come under UN command, Buchanan said: "We don't take orders from Boo-Boo Ghali."

Dr Corea, himself a former Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), served three terms (1974-1986) in a relatively less stressful job.

Mercifully, he did not have to figure out how to resolve the civil wars and ethnic conflicts sweeping across the globe - or run exhausting election campaigns to get re-elected because he was nominated by the Secretary-General and endorsed by the General Assembly.

Well, last week, Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced he is willing to run for a second five-year term as chief executive officer of the United Nations.

"If the member states decide to offer me a second term as Secretary-General, I shall be deeply honoured to accept," he told reporters.

"I had to ask myself, am I willing and able to do this job for five more years, with the same level of energy and commitment I have brought to it during the last four?," he asked.

Annan admitted his job has been "a very demanding and challenging responsibility to carry, which inevitably has made exhausting claims on my family and my personal life."

A national of Ghana, Annan is the second African to be Secretary-General, after Boutros-Ghali of Egypt. 

The post was previously held by Trygve Lie of Norway (1946-1953); Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden (1953-1961); U.Thant of Burma (1961-1971); Kurt Waldheim of Austria (1972-1981); Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru (1982-1991); and Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992-1996).

Annan, who is due to finish his first five-year term in December, has to get the blessings of the 15-member Security Council and the 189-member General Assembly for a second five-year term beginning January 2002.

This includes the support of all five permanent members of the Security Council (the P-5) - namely the US, UK, France, China and Russia - who have veto powers over candidates. 

Asked if he had any indications of support from the P-5, Annan was non-commital: "I will leave the P-5 to speak for themselves," but added he had a good working relationship with all five permanent members. The only challenge could come from the Asian Group of countries who believe that it is Asia's turn to field a candidate for Secretary-General. 

But several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are also clamouring for a woman to run for Secretary-General, a first in the Organisation's history.

The only Asian countries who have shown an interest in fielding candidates for the Secretary-General's job were Singapore, Bangladesh and the Philippines. 

Although Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh and Ambassador Kishore Mabhubani of Singapore were viewed as potential candidates, they never went public with their intentions. 

The only Asian candidate to openly declare his intention to run for office was the former Philippines Foreign Minister Domingo Siazon, who was earlier head of the Vienna-based UN Industrial Development Organisation (1985-1993).

One Asian ambassador told IPS that the issue at hand was not Annan's positive track record as Secretary-General but the violation of the principle of geographical rotation under which it would be Asia's turn to nominate a candidate for Secretary-General.

At the news conference Thursday, Annan was asked about the possibility of Asian countries wanting an Asian Secretary-General -and on whether the United Nations would push for geographic representation or merit in selecting posts.

Annan said that he had always tried to fill posts on merit. "Going for merit, however, does not mean that you cannot find them all around the world."

The Secretary-General also noted that in the history of the Organisation, it has not always been the case that one region has only held the Secretary-General's post for two terms.

The exceptions were Lie, Hammarskjold and Waldheim - all three from Western Europe. No other regional group has held the job three times over. 

"I won't be surprised by other (Asian) candidates coming up," he said, and added that it would be normal for Asian candidates to present themselves as candidates, and he said he was not concerned about that possibility. 

Meanwhile, the Asian Group is expected to meet early next week, to react to the announcement. "They can either endorse Annan or they can come up with their own candidate," one Asian ambassador said, adding that "the only problem is that we don't have one."

Asked for the ideal candidate who could challenge Annan, he said: "A woman from Asia, preferably a former or present head of state".

Any takers?

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