Portugal’s Guterres Poised to be Next UN Secretary-General

By Michelle Nichols 6 October 2016

Former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres is poised to be the ninth United Nations Secretary-General and is expected to be formally recommended to the 193-member General Assembly for election by the Security Council on Thursday, diplomats said.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, president of the 15-member council for October, said he hoped the council would unanimously recommend Guterres, who was also the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from June 2005 to December 2015.

Guterres, 67, would replace Ban Ki-moon, 72, of South Korea, who will step down at the end of 2016 after serving two terms. Guterres was prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002.

The council has been holding informal secret ballots since July in a bid to reach consensus on a candidate. Members had the choices encourage, discourage or no opinion. Guterres has come out on top of all the polls and on Wednesday received 13 encourage votes and two no opinion votes.

“In the end, there was just a candidate whose experience, vision, and versatility across a range of areas proved compelling,” US Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters.

“If we have these transnational threats and we don’t have somebody at the helm of the United Nations that can mobilize coalitions, that can make the tools of this institution … work better for people, that’s going to be more pain and more suffering and more dysfunction than we can afford,” she said.

Diplomats said one of the no opinion votes was cast by one of the five veto wielding powers, which are Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain.

The Security Council will adopt a resolution, traditionally behind closed doors, recommending that the General Assembly appoint Guterres for a five-year term from Jan. 1, 2017. The resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes to pass.

“We hope it can be done by acclamation,” Churkin said.

Thirteen people were nominated in the race to become the next UN chief, but three had already withdrawn before Wednesday’s secret ballot. In a bid for more transparency in the opaque selection process, the candidates were for the first time able to make election campaign-style pitches to the General Assembly.

When Guterres spoke to the General Assembly in April, he said he was a candidate to become secretary-general because “the best place to address the root cause of human suffering is at the center of the UN system.” He spoke in English, French and Spanish during the two-hour long town hall meeting.

Guterres, a devout Catholic, spoke about his decade as the UN refugee chief as “an extraordinary privilege but a terrible frustration because there was no humanitarian solution for their plight.” He said the solution was always political.

He described a UN chief as “acting with humility, without arrogance, without giving lessons to anybody, but working as a convener, as a facilitator, as a catalyst and behaving like an honest broker, a bridge builder and a messenger for peace.”

The Irrawaddy adds:

Guterres’ first official visit to Burma in his role as UN refugee chief was in 2009 where he travelled to northern Arakan State and the country’s South East. Guterres announced he would upgrade the UNHCR mission in Burma particularly in terms of health, education, water and sanitation, agriculture and infrastructure.

Guterres visited again in 2012 where he rejected an offer by then President Thein Sein that the UN agency take responsibility for resettling Burma’s displaced Rohingya community in other countries. In troubled Arakan State, also known as Rakhine State, longstanding discrimination by majority Buddhists against Muslim Rohingya exploded into bloody violence in 2012. More than 100,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, are still in displacement camps.