UNITED NATIONS — Portugal’s former prime minister Antonio Guterres has maintained his spot as first choice to succeed Ban Ki-moon as the next U.N. secretary-general, topping the fourth successive informal poll in the Security Council, diplomats said Friday.
The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because voting is supposed to be kept secret, said Slovakia’s Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak remained in second place followed by Serbia’s former foreign minister Vuk Jeremic.
Former Macedonian foreign minister Srgjan Kerim moved up from sixth to fourth place, followed by Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, who heads UNESCO, the diplomats said.
There has never been a woman secretary-general and more than 50 nations are campaigning to elect the first female U.N. chief, along with many organizations.
Five women are in the race, but the fact that Bokova was the highest-ranked and only came in fifth place among the 10 candidates left many diplomats disappointed. That’s because it all but rules out a female secretary-general — unless a woman makes a late bid for the world’s top diplomatic post.
Ban, whose second five-year term ends on Dec. 31, said last month that after eight men “it’s high time now” for a woman to head the United Nations.
By tradition, the job of secretary-general has rotated among regions. Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe have all held the post. East European nations, including Russia, argue that they have never had a secretary-general and it is their turn.
In the latest poll, diplomats said former Slovenian President Danilo Turk came in sixth, Argentina’s Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra seventh, and former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, who heads the U.N. Development Program, eighth, the diplomats said.
Two other women received the fewest positive votes. Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica, the U.N. official who played a key role in shaping last December’s historic agreement to fight climate change, was in ninth place and Moldovan Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman in 10th, according to the diplomats.
The secretary-general is chosen by the 193-member General Assembly on the recommendation of the 15-member Security Council. In practice, this has meant that the council’s five permanent members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — have veto power over the candidates.
In Friday’s informal poll, council members voted whether to “encourage,” ”discourage,” or express “no opinion” about the 10 candidates — five men and five women.
Another poll is scheduled in late September and will use the same ballot. But a “straw” poll in the first week of October will for the first time distinguish the color of the ballots of the five permanent members so candidates will know if they would face a veto.
Guterres, who was Portugal’s center-left Socialist prime minister from 1995-2002 and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees until the end of 2015, got 12 “encourage” votes, two “discourage” and one “no opinion” on Friday.
For him, the big question mark remains whether any of the “discourages” are from Russia or another veto-wielding permanent member.
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft stressed that the straw polls should narrow the field and focus on who will be the strongest secretary-general. He reiterated that candidates that have no possibility of getting at least the minimum nine positive votes and no vetoes by a permanent member, should consider dropping out because they won’t win the race.