The contest to find the next Secretary General of the United Nations "is a marathon, not a sprint," says Foreign Minister Murray McCully after the first ballot of 12 contenders put Helen Clark mid-pack.
He said there was no reason for Clark to pull out and anything could happen on the second ballot - which could be held in a week's time.
"This a marathon not a sprint and in a game in which five members have an ability to veto any of the candidates, there's a whole lot that can happen from here."
After several months of open forums with candidates at the UN General Assembly, the 15 members of the Security Council today conducted the first ballot, giving each one of three ratings: encourage, discourage or no opinion.
The five above Clark are all Europeans, and four of from Eastern Europe, which considers itself next in turn if the traditional rotational process prevailed.
"There are very strong tactical overtones to this first ballot," he said.
"In particular you can see a very strong organized push to get European and particularly Eastern European candidates into the final short list."
McCully said that having achieved their objective to get Eastern Europeans in the top group, they could now focus on merit.
"Helen Clark's strong point from the beginning has been capability," he said.
"In a merit-based contest, she shows through as we saw in the debates in New York."
Next week in Laos, McCully will be meeting several ministers from Security Council countries at an East Asia Summit meeting for foreign ministers.
"I'll certainly be taking the opportunity to become well informed about the intentions of Security Council members going forward."
The results of the ballot are given to Security Council members. Candidates are told the top and bottom votes and where they sit relative to them.
The general assembly is told nothing and has to rely on media reports which in turn are based on leaks.
McCully said the process was "completely disrespectful" to the General Assembly.
"I'm sure they will be quite annoyed about that but where that goes we don't know."
Commenting on the fact that the two candidates well ahead of the pack were men, Antonio Guterres of Portugal and Danilo Turk of Slovenia, McCully said there had been a strong debate about the need for the UN to change "and this is not a very strong signal on the part of the Security Council it is listening. "
At this stage, no differentiation in the ballots is made between the five permanent members or the 10 non-permanent members. At some point they will be color-coded to determine how many members with a veto oppose the candidates.
The new Secretary General's term begins on December 31.
Under the UN rules, the Security Council makes a recommendation for the General Assembly to approve.
The results - (As widely reported by media - official results are not released)
1. Antonio Guterres, Portugal
2. Danilo Turk, Slovenia
3. Irina Bokova, Bulgaria
4. Vuk Jeremic, Serbia
5. Srgjan Kerim, Macedonia
6. Helen Clark, New Zealand
7. Miroslav Lajcak, Slovakia
8. Susanna Malcorra, Argentina
9. Christiana Figueres, Costa Rica
10. Natalia Gherman, Moldova
11. Igor Luksic, Montenegro
12. Vesna Pucic, Croatia
SECURITY COUINCIL MEMBERS