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Security Council powers weigh in to pick new UN chief

The race to become the next UN chief takes a decisive turn on Wednesday when the big powers at the Security Council will for the first time indicate which candidates they are prepared to block.

During the sixth straw poll to pick the new secretary-general, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States will use pink ballots to rate the candidates, while the other ten council members will use white papers.

The results from the pink-colored ballots of the five veto-holding members will be the ones to watch as the contest to succeed Ban Ki-moon heads into the final stretch.

There are currently 10 candidates for the top post including frontrunner Antonio Guterres, the former prime minister of Portugal who was UN refugee chief for a decade.

Guterres has taken the number-one spot in all five previous straw polls, but has received two “discourage” votes, fueling speculation that one of those may have been cast by a veto power who could block his nomination.

The straw poll will be the first for European budget commissioner Kristalina Georgieva after she stormed onto the scene last week as Bulgaria’s new candidate.

Bulgaria had until then backed UNESCO boss Irina Bokova, but she was pushed aside after her poor showing in the previous straw polls.

Bokova however remains in the race, even if she does not have her government’s backing.

There have been calls for the council to pick a woman to be secretary-general for the first time in the UN’s history and to choose a candidate from Eastern Europe.

Russia has said the ideal candidate should tick both those boxes, but France, Britain and the United States have downplayed the importance of regional rotation.

– Backroom deals –

A “discourage” vote from a veto power does not necessarily spell the end of a candidacy and could instead open the door to negotiations.

On Tuesday, the “1 for 7 billion” group of NGOs campaigning for transparency wrote to the ambassadors from the five powers, urging them not to trade away support for a candidate for promises of plum UN posts.

The new UN chief must be able to select a strong team that will be appointed “not as a result of political deal-making,” said campaign member Bill Pace in the letter.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who holds the council presidency this month, said he hoped that a formal vote to pick a nominee could be held soon, indicating that there could be a consensus candidate.

In the last ballot, none of the candidates except for Guterres garnered the minimum nine required votes to be the Security Council’s nominee.

During the secret informal vote, all 15 council members rate the candidates by marking their ballot with “encourage”, “discourage” or “no opinion.”

Among the other contenders is former Serbian foreign minister Vuk Jeremic, who is likely to face a veto from Western powers for his anti-NATO stance and his opposition to Kosovo’s independence.

Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak and Slovenia’s former president Danilo Turk have taken the number two spot in some straw polls, but were well behind Guterres.

Argentina’s Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra, New Zealand’s ex-prime minister and head of the UN Development Program, Helen Clark, are among the five women in the race.

Under the selection process, the nominee to be UN chief would be presented to the General Assembly for approval. The new secretary-general will begin work on January 1.