Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

UN ambassador: Why Helen Clark is strugglng

Helen Clark is still fighting for UN job. Photo / UN
Helen Clark is still fighting for UN job. Photo / UN

Helen Clark faces her fifth Security Council ballot early Tuesday morning (NZ time) to choose the next UN Secretary General, amid rumours that another contender from Eastern Europe is set to join the contest.

And New Zealand ambassador to the UN Gerard van Bohemen has talked about the selection process in an interview, revealing that the process has affected him.

"I tell you what - sitting in the room when they are calling out the 'discourages' [votes] is like a knife through the heart each time," he told the Herald.

"It is not pleasant."

He also speculated on why Clark is not doing as well as he thought she would initially.

"It was put to me that whether Helen likes it or not, she is seen as 'an Anglo' and people have had enough of Anglo - being UK and US - domination of lots of events.

Even though she is neither of their candidate, she gets tarred with being seen of that ilk."

Clark and Key have been at pains to promote Clark as an independent candidate and not the favourite of any P5 member (US, China, Russia, Britain and France).

Three candidates have dropped out already and the field is currently nine - six of them from Eastern Europe which has never held the post.

But Bulgaria's European Union Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, is rumoured to be preparing to join the contest.

That would require either the withdrawal of fellow Bulgarian Irina Bokova, or for Georgieva to be nominated by countries other than her own because a country can have only one nominee.

As a woman from Eastern Europe, and as head of Unesco, Bokova's credentials look good but she has not performed well in the public forums and she is seen as very close to Russia and would be unacceptable to the United States.

Georgieva has been a possible entrant for months but the tricky politics around her potential candidacy came to a head at the G20 in China this month when German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin to replace Bokova with Georgieva.

Bokova has done well in the ballots to date however: she came third in the first ballot, fifth in the second, third in the third, and fifth in the fourth ballot in which the 15 member vote either "encourage," "discourage" or "no opinion" for each candidates.

She has done better than Clark whose ranking in the four ballots have been sixth, seventh, seventh and eighth.

Antonio Guterres, the former Prime Minister of Portugal and former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has topped all ballots despite strong campaigns to have a woman and an Eastern European.

Gerard van Bohemen, NZ ambassador to the United Nations. Photo / Supplied
Gerard van Bohemen, NZ ambassador to the United Nations. Photo / Supplied

Van Bohemen said it was a mystery as to why Guterres, "an old white guy from a Nato country," was doing so well.

"He's a very nice guy. He doesn't offend people."

He said that in the beginning, he had assumed that Clark and Guterres would be level-pegging.

"They have a very similar profile. They are both former Prime Ministers, they both successfully ran large UN institutions, they both know the system well and both are westerners in that general sense.

"I think Helen has a character that people take stronger views about her than they do about him," he said.

For some, the fact that Clark was a woman was no advantage, he indicated.
"Russians don't care about 'blokedom.'

"Gender is not high on their list of must-haves."

Tuesday's ballot (Monday New York time) will be the last of the secret ballots that do not differentiate between the 10 elected members of the Security Council and the five permanent members,

In next week's ballot, the P5 ballots will be colour coded red.

They are not actual vetoes, but potential vetoes.

He said the thing he found most concerning about the process was that the P5 could use the veto to extract commitments of positions in the UN Secretariat that gave the Permanent members far more control than was ever contemplated by the charter.

"And leverage is being used all the time. It's my complaint about the way we negotiate in the Security Council.

"Everybody looks to extract leverage straight away. Rather than 'how do we sort the problem out' they're all busy positioning themselves against each other."

Asked if the campaign for Secretary General had affected New Zealand's role on the Security Council he said: "It made my life a bit tricky, to be frank, particularly so when you do your numbers and you are not getting as many votes as you think you ought to be getting.

"So some of your colleagues are not telling you the truth. At a personal level, that's a bit hard to cope with but you get over that.

"We being Kiwis, are probably less used to the bifurcation of the national interest or the group interest as against things you are telling people.

"Other countries are more used to basically smiling and saying one thing and doing another."

- NZ Herald

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