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South Korean Seen as Front-Runner in UN Secretary-General Race

14 September 2006

A preliminary poll of U.N. Security Council members has reaffirmed South Korea's foreign minister as the leading candidate to become the world body's next secretary-general. Council diplomats expect to complete the selection process by early next month.

This second straw poll on secretary-general candidates featured the names of five Asian men, one more than was on the ballot for the first vote in July.

Under the rules of the poll, each Security Council member casts a ballot indicating either encouragement or discouragement for each announced candidate. The voting was done in secret, but within minutes, the result was made public.

China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya confirmed the outcome.

"I think the Koreans are leading, the second is the Indian, and the third is the Thai. The fourth is Jordanian, and the fifth one is Sri Lankan," he said.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon received 14 votes of encouragement, reaffirming his position as front-runner for the secretary-general's post. He received one 'discourage' vote, but it was not known whether that negative ballot came from a veto-wielding permanent Council member.

Finishing second was Indian author and U.N. Undersecretary-General for Public Information Shashi Tharoor, followed by Thailand's deputy prime minister, Surakiart Sathirathai.

Finishing fourth was Jordan's U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein, followed by Sri Lankan diplomat and former U.N. disarmament official Jayantha Dhanapala.

The biggest surprise was the poor showing of the Jordanian candidate. Prince Zeid had been widely seen as a serious contender when he entered the race last month. He is the only Muslim in the race. But his candidacy had raised questions about whether Jordan should be considered part of Asia for purposes of the selection process.

According to the tradition of geographic rotation, this is Asia's turn to head the world body. No Asian has led the organization since 1971, when Burma's Oo Thant stepped down after 10 years in office.

This second straw poll is considered significant, as it is the final vote before the annual General Assembly debate. The choice of a new secretary-general is expected to be a hot topic in bilateral discussions on the sidelines of the debate.

Washington's U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, has said he would like to complete the selection process by late September or early October. China's Ambassador Wang says he would be happy with that timetable.

"I think the end of this month, or early next month," he said. "I think the Security Council members decided to speed up this process."

Under rules of the selection process, candidates can enter the race at any time, and diplomats say more candidates are likely to emerge before the final choice is made. There have been some suggestions that a woman candidate might be put forward, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggested this week he would like to see a woman in the job.

"As to my successors, I have often said, 'My predecessors did it their way. I did it my way, and I hope he or she will do it his or her way,' he said. "I know I got into trouble in Turkey when I said, 'When she takes over.' And they asked me, 'Why are you talking about a she?' I said, "Because a 'she' has never had it."

Secretary-General Annan is due to step down at the end of December, when he completes 10 years in office. He has made clear that he would not stay on after December 31.

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