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UN: South Korean Likely To Be Next Secretary-General

By Nikola Krastev

UNITED NATIONS, October 3, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon is almost certain to become the next United Nations secretary-general after the last informal vote in the UN Security Council on October 2 showed his candidacy firmly supported by 14 of the council's 15 members, including all five permanent veto-yielding members.

Now the actual selection of the winning candidate moves to the next and probably last step in the Security Council -- a formal vote. That vote is set for October 9. But with such strong backing, the selection of Ban Ki-moon appears now to be a mere formality.

According to the UN Charter, the Security Council recommends a candidate for secretary-general to the General Assembly, which then approves or rejects the candidate with a simple majority.

But in the 61-year history of the UN, every candidate recommended by the council has been approved by the assembly.

The current secretary-general, Kofi Annan of Ghana, who has been at the helm of the UN since 1996, is stepping down at the end of the year. The Security Council wanted to select its candidate by early October to allow plenty of time for the transition period.

Strong Support For Ban

The October 2 vote was the fourth since July, but it was the first "differentiated ballot," where the five permanent members -- China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States -- vote with a different color piece of paper. None voted against Ban Ki-moon.

Shortly after the vote, Wang Guangya, China's ambassador to the UN, said the council's choice was obvious. "It is quite clear from today's straw poll that Minister Ban Ki-moon is the candidate that the Security Council will recommend to the General Assembly," he said.

Kenzo Oshima, Japan's ambassador to the UN and the president of the Security Council during October, said that there will be no more informal voting. "I think that [the] sense of the council is that on the basis of the today's ballot [the] council is now ready for a formal ballot."

The two runner-ups -- Shashi Tharoor of India, a UN undersecretary-general, and Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the president of Latvia -- had some support in earlier rounds of voting, but after the October 2 vote their chances are no longer considered realistic.

Shortly after the vote, Shashi Tharoor announced his withdrawal from the race and said it is clear that Ban Ki-moon will be the next secretary-general.

Respected Candidate

Ban, 62, has been the leading candidate from the very beginning of the race, which at one point fielded seven diplomats vying for the top job at the world body.

Ban received his bachelor's degree from Seoul National University in 1970 and a masters degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1985.

The South Korean diplomat has the strong support of China, Britain, and the United States.

"We have a lot of respect for Foreign Minister Ban," U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said. "We know him well from his service in Washington and here, in New York, and think very highly of him professionally and personally."

The informal polls are not binding and Security Council members can reverse their position between now and when they make their recommendation.

Given the urgency of the matter, however, and the consensus that the next secretary-general should come from Asia, as of now, Ban Ki-moon is considered to be the council's choice for the General Assembly vote.

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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