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Portugal’s Guterres set to be next UN secretary-general

Portugal’s former prime minister Antonio Guterres was poised to become the next secretary-general of the United Nations following a decisive straw poll by the Security Council on Wednesday.

Guterres, who served as prime minister from 1995 to 2002 and was the UN’s refugee chief for 10 years, won backing from 12 of the 15 council members — most importantly from four of the five veto-holding powers.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin emerged from the council chamber along with the 14 other ambassadors to declare that Guterres was the “clear favorite” to succeed Ban Ki-moon as the world’s diplomat-in-chief.

Churkin announced that a formal vote by the council will take place on Thursday to confirm the choice of Guterres, adding that he expected the selection to be “by acclamation.”

A fifth veto power, who was not identified, expressed “no opinion” during the secret ballot, clearing the way for the 67-year-old Socialist politician to become the new UN chief.

“We wish Mister Guterres well in discharging his duties as the secretary general of the United Nations in the next five years,” Churkin said.

During Wednesday’s straw poll, veto-holders Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States used color-coded ballots to indicate for the first time whether they intended to block a candidate.

The 67-year-old Guterres, who served as prime minister from 1995 to 2002, had held the number-one spot in the previous five informal votes by the Security Council.

Once he is formally endorsed by the Security Council, he will be presented to the General Assembly for it to approve his candidacy.

Guterres, who will be the first former head of government to lead the world body, has pledged to revamp the United Nations to bolster its peacemaking efforts and promote human rights.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the choice of Guterres was “good news for the United Nations” while British envoy Matthew Rycroft said he will make a “very strong, effective secretary-general”.

US Ambassador Samantha Power cited Guterres’ experience and vision as “compelling” and stressed the need to have an effective leader at the UN helm during a time of multiple global crises.

“We are united in understanding the gravity of the threats that are out there,” said Power.

– Georgieva’s bid falters –

There were 10 candidates in the race to become the next UN chief including EU budget commissioner Kristalina Georgieva from Bulgaria who entered the fray just last week.

Georgieva, however, failed to garner crucial support from two of the permanent members, with speculation turning to Russia’s opposition to her candidacy.

The former World Bank vice president received eight negative votes including two from veto-holding members, five positive votes including two from the permanent council members and two “no opinion.” One of those was from a veto-holder.

Georgieva tweeted congratulations to Guterres and offered “best of luck in pursuing an ambitious agenda for the UN.”

UNESCO chief Irina Bokova, who was pushed aside by the Bulgarian government to make way for Georgieva, also received two negative votes from veto-holders.

Argentina’s Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra received one negative vote from a veto-holder, while Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak received two, according to diplomats.

New Zealand’s former prime minister and head of the UN Development Programme Helen Clark received three negative votes from the veto powers as did Serbia’s ex-foreign minister Vuk Jeremic, Macedonia’s ex-foreign minister Srgjan Kerim and Natalia Gherman of Moldova.

Slovenia’s former president Danilo Turk received four negative votes from the permanent five members.

The new secretary-general will begin work on January 1.