Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

NZ takes a step back to support Helen Clark in UN bid

New Zealand will hand over the responsibility of carrying out polls on the UN Secretary General job to Russia in September to ensure there is no perception of a conflict of interest with Helen Clark's candidacy.

Gerard van Bohemen, New Zealand's permanent representative at the UN, confirmed that while New Zealand is president of the Security Council in September, Russia would oversee any ballots.

"New Zealand has chosen to do this to counter any conflict-of-interest perception issues given we also have a candidate."

However, New Zealand would still preside over meetings to discuss the form any ballot would take.

It comes after Clark confirmed to New Zealand officials she intended to remain in the race at least until the next straw poll on August 29.

The number of 'encourage' votes for Clark in the second straw poll dropped to 6 from 8 in the first poll and the 'discourage' votes lifted from five to eight.

The results have frustrated New Zealand officials, who believed Clark had more support on the Council.

New Zealand is the only one of the 15 Security Council members with a candidate.

Van Bohemen said he believed Clark's results in the second poll were an attempt to knock Clark out of the race early because she was a possible 'compromise' candidate once the vetoes started coming.

"It's a snake pit in there."

He said thus far none of the five permanent members had indicated they would veto Clark.

While the Russians had made it clear they preferred an Eastern European candidate, they were also aware it was possible no Eastern European candidate would make it through.

Clark was not the favourite candidate for any of the other countries on the council, but was seen as capable by many.

He refused to say how New Zealand was voting on other candidates, saying it was a secret ballot.

Gerard van Bohemen believed Helen Clark's results in the second poll were an attempt to knock her out of the race early. Photo / Supplied
Gerard van Bohemen believed Helen Clark's results in the second poll were an attempt to knock her out of the race early. Photo / Supplied

The other countries were not saying why they were not voting for Clark, but it was likely a tactical move to promote a more preferred candidate, he said.

"One is that Helen is a strong person and I think that her strength is both a strength and a weakness because there are some members who don't want strong SGs who could be seen as too independent.

"And people who are used to standing up to pressure, as she's shown she has, would trouble them."

New Zealand's position was another reason, he said.

"In the end New Zealand in these sort of situations is not a geo-political player, so we don't have cards to call in. We can play the soft-power stuff but we don't have hard power to exercise."

UN observers have questioned whether Clark's candidacy had resulted in New Zealand holding its punches in some areas so it did not compromise Clark's candidacy. That included New Zealand's silence on the calls for a more transparent process in the Security Council in electing the Secretary General.

Van Bohemen said Clark's candidacy was something he had to be conscious of.

"It's not realistic to pretend you can run completely separate lines of diplomacy in these situations. So it is something of a constraint. It doesn't constrain the policy positions New Zealand takes, but you do think about how you present things and how forcefully you might present them if you've got a candidate you're trying to promote."

Helen is a strong person and I think that her strength is both a strength and a weakness because there are some members who don't want strong SGs who could be seen as too independent.

September could be a crunch month in the contest as the Security Council tries to further narrow down the field of 11 still in the race.

It is possible September will also see the first colour-coded ballots, in which the five permanent members (China, Russia, United States, United Kingdom and France) indicate whether they will veto candidates.

The choice of Russia to take over the polling process is because it will be the next president after New Zealand in October.

Former Portugal Prime Minister Antonio Guterres has attracted the most 'encourage' votes in both polls, but faces a risk of veto from Russia which wants an Eastern European candidate.

Last week Foreign Minister Murray McCully visited Russia and met with his counterpart Sergey Lavrov where he pushed Clark's case.

McCully said while he appreciated the view that it was Eastern Europe's turn under the convention of regional rotation, New Zealand believed it should be on merit given the challenges the Security Council faces.

- NZ Herald

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