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Portugal’s Guterres still leads in UN chief race

Portugal’s former prime minister Antonio Guterres maintained his lead in the race to become the next UN secretary-general following a fifth straw poll by the Security Council on Monday, diplomats said.

Guterres, who served as UN refugee chief for 10 years and was prime minister from 1995 to 2002, picked up 12 votes of encouragement, two “discourage” votes and one “no opinion”, the same result as the previous informal vote.

It was the fifth time that the 67-year-old has taken the number-one spot in the contest to succeed Ban Ki-moon, the former South Korean foreign minister who steps down on December 31 after 10 years as the world’s top diplomat.

Serbia’s ex-foreign minister Vuk Jeremic came in second with eight positive votes, six negative and one “no opinion”, followed by Slovakia’s foreign minister Miroslav Lajcak, who took the second place in the last round.

The 15 ambassadors, including those from the powerful five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — met behind closed doors to rate the candidates.

Diplomats were watching Bulgarian candidate Irina Bokova’s showing after the government in Sofia said it may consider switching candidates if she failed to get a top spot.

The government is considering putting forward European Commission vice president Kristalina Georgieva instead.

Bokova, who heads the UN’s culture and education agency UNESCO, picked up six votes of encouragement, seven “discourage” votes and two “no opinion”.

That put her behind Slovenia’s ex-president Danilo Turk and Argentina’s Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra, who each got seven positive votes, seven negative votes and one “no opinion.”

The next straw poll is scheduled for October 5 but the five veto-wielding powers will be using coloured ballots in that round to indicate whether they would block a candidacy.

New Zealand’s former prime minister and head of the UN Development Program Helen Clark tied with Macedonia’s ex-foreign minister Srgjan Kerim with six encouragements and nine “discourage” votes.

The former foreign minister of Moldova, Natalia Gherman, took the last spot.