Tenacity, competence and caution have been touchstones of Helen Clark's enduring political career.
She has always played the long game with skill and dexterity.
Visiting her homeland this week, her trademark prudence was on display as she fended off inquiries about the UN Secretary-General job. The post becomes vacant at the end of the year when Ban Ki-moon's term expires. Ms Clark, number three in the UN hierarchy, is seen in some quarters as a successor, though she is yet to declare her intentions.
In a long overdue shift, the UN is embracing a limited form of democracy to determine its next leader. For 70 years the post has been decided behind closed doors. The next "SG" will have to impress UN members at open forums before the Security Council gets to make, once again, the final call.
The election comes as the world body must frame global responses to climate change, mass movements of refugees and inequality. Whether its structure is fit for purpose is unclear which raises issues of UN reform.
Ms Clark's prospects are uncertain. She rated highly in a survey of 700 United Nations staff and others close to the organisation. There is a desire to have a woman at the top, and a formidable field is emerging. If she wants the top slot, she soon will need to show her hand to prevent any rivals getting up a head of steam.
The candidate best suited will have the skills to negotiate the UN's political shoals and the ability to communicate its ambitions. Sounds very much like Helen Clark.
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