The announcement at long last that Helen Clark is a candidate for the post of Secretary-General of the United Nations is one all New Zealanders can greet with pride. She has taken her time to make the announcement because she knows the odds are against her. She may be the most capable and well qualified of the candidates on offer but the UN works (or not) in mysterious ways. Its most prestigious post is passed around "regions", loosely defined, and it is said to be Eastern Europe's turn. A slew of nominations from that part of the world suggests it expects the honour, and the fact three of them are women rather negates Helen Clark's credentials on that score.
All this considered, it would have been no surprise had she quietly dropped her hopes of succeeding Ban Ki-moon next year. But the fact she has decided to run, pitching her case on pure merit, is a matter of pride for all of us, whether or not she succeeds. It is a credit to her, and the character of her country, that she enters this contest with tenacity and not much going for her except the certain knowledge she can do the job well and the conviction that nothing else should count.
The Government has resolved to put its diplomatic resources behind the bid, not just because of the kudos the post would bring for New Zealand but because it shares her confidence she would do the job well. Few appreciate the qualities of a politician more than those who have faced them across the aisle in Parliament. National knows Helen Clark to be clever, formidable and fair in both public leadership and in dealings behind the scenes.
If proven national leadership was the prime qualification for the international job, a three-term Prime Minister would appear to outrank all other candidates. And if the next Secretary-General is to be a woman - as surely it should be - her rivals have risen no higher than Deputy Prime Minister.
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Helen Clark was not only the first woman to lead a major political party in New Zealand and the first to become Prime Minister at a general election, she was the first Labour Prime Minister to be twice re-elected. She gave Labour its first three-term Government in her lifetime. Even more important to its membership, she returned the party to its traditional principles after the apostasy of Rogernomics. She did so without disturbing the vital underpinnings of the reformed economy and the low public debt her Government left helped carry the present Government through the last recession.
New Zealand knows her strengths and so probably does the UN organisation now she has been leading one of its largest agencies for seven years. But sadly, that strength could count against her in this contest. Nobody becomes Secretary-General without the approval of the Security Council - dominated by the United States, Russia and China. On the evidence of most of their previous selections, a forthright UN voice was not wanted. But Helen Clark knows what she is up against, knows what to do, and she can do it. Kudos to her.
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