Helen Clark's decision to campaign for the top job at the United Nations puts her in the centre of a stunning piece of history in the making.

It will be a contest like no other.

Whether or not she wins the, her candidacy will be unifying force in New Zealand.
There will be genuine pride in her bid. And there is no down side for John Key in using his own impressive international connections as her champion.

That she wanted the job has been an open secret. But she had choices about whether to make a bid and how to go for it.

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She could have sat back and hoped that no consensus would form around another candidate. She might then have the advantage of being the fresh circuit-breaker - coming through the middle.

The disadvantage of that strategy is that you don't look serious about wanting the job. That is what happened when former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was promoted as a last-minute compromise candidate as Commonwealth Secretary General last year and he missed out.

Clark has entered a race that has seven competitors. Others can join at any stage.

In the unique way this United Nations appointment has been run - with the "grass roots" member countries demanding a role instead of leaving it to the Security Council - it makes perfect sense for Clark to publicly declare, accept transparency and face scrutiny.

It is the honest way. It is the fearless way. It is a salute to the modernisation of the UN.

To have sat back and waited for a shoulder-tap from the Security Council would have sent the opposite message.

But of course she also has to retain or gain the respect of the old power players on the Security Council who will still make the final recommendation - especially Russia, China and the United States.

Few who know Clark would doubt her ability to do the job, and the fact that Clark will be in contention is an incredible achievement.

But Key is breaking the habit of lifetime and cautioning people not to be too optimistic.

He and Clark both know that such contests are more about politics than merit.

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