15 March 2006

As the campaign for the next Secretary General warms up, it may be about time to mention a few facts and some speculation.

First, the speculation that a new Secretary General will be selected by June is very unlikely. It is repeatedly whispered that U.S. Ambassador John Bolton has targeted that date in talks with other delegates. That may well be. His job is to start the ball rolling and send a kick-off message. But then, it may be more practical to believe that a decision could only be made when his President visits New York for the opening of the new General Assembly session early September. With no predominant candidate, June is too early.

Then there is a consideration for the current Secretary General. Although his removal was stampeded in the summer of 2005, Kofi Annan will be a lame duck if someone is elected so early this year. It may be that Mr. Bolton's reference to June was more a message to Kofi rather than an agenda dateline.

Another repeated reference is to Eastern Central Europe. In effect, that reference has become a code word for supporting former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. Or at least it is a political gesture towards Polish Americans in the Midwest. While it may be time for Asian Americans to make their political presence felt, it should be mentioned that Eastern Europe is not anymore a political entity. Furthermore, the fact is that Eastern Europe did get its turn when Austria's Kurt Waldheim served for TWO terms. If the reference is to the "Eastern European group" at U.N. Headquarters in New York, that is a relic of the Cold War, mainly composed of the now defunct Warsaw Pact members -- most of whom are joining NATO, the European Union, or both. Even within the U.N. for all practical purposes they are members of the Economic and Social Commission for Europe and most of them are served from the European Headquarters in Vienna or Geneva. Clearly, qualification for the top post should not be merely geographical. But if turns are to be fairly considered, it is Asia's time.

Asia does not have a collective candidate. No continent ever did, except once -- when Africa put forward Salim Salim as its only candidate in 1981 and had to wait ten more years to get its turn. There are three declared Asians. The earliest, from Thailand, seems to have run out of steam -- even in his own country. The second is the South Korean who, despite niceties, would have difficulty winning over China, let alone Russia or Japan. The third and most discreet, Sri Lanka's Jayantha Dhanapala, seems to be making steady inroads. There is still an option for someone from Singapore. A former Prime Minister is being mentioned in high political circles on the assumption that China would not veto an ethnic Chinese from a neighbouring Asian country.

It is still too early to predict. The real name usually comes up at the last minute. The longest running horse most likely stumbles long before the finish line. Most likely it will be a tug of war then a bargain between the U.S. and China. Russia, whose Foreign Minister is a former pillar of the Security Council will also play its hand carefully and discreetly, possibly with a last minute deal. The French will insist on a Francophone and a deal for a senior job for a French diplomat. The farthest the British went in opposing any serious candidate was to place a "technical veto," not a real blocking one. They would facilitate a consensus.

It could be that the door is open for any qualified candidate from any continent. Although we already had a Norwegian and a Swedish Secretary General, Terje Roed Larsen and Jan Eliasson may strongly feel that the experience deserves repetition, especially since neither leaders completed a second term.

Campaigning is likely to start in earnest during April - May, possibly through visits to New York, then Washington, Beijing, Paris, London and Moscow. Again, that would mean that June will be too early. It may be also too early to predict that it will not be a woman. The quest for a woman Secretary General is an emotional issue with politically correct dimensions that leaders often find tempting to indulge with consummate hypocrisy. That would open a totally new ballgame.