We May Know Today Who the Next UN Secretary General Will Be


The Security Council on Friday will take an informal “straw poll” to weigh preferences of its 15 members for the next UN Secretary General. This is the second such straw poll in the race to replace Ban Ki Moon when his term expires at the end of the year. If the results mirror the first straw poll, taken at the end of July, then by the end of the day, we very well may know who will become the 9th Secretary General of the United Nations.

How the Straw Poll Works

Each of the 15 members of the Security Council will indicate through secret ballot whether they “encourage,” “discourage” or have “no opinion” about the candidate. Later, color coded ballots are introduced to indicate the preferences the veto wielding members of the Council. (If a candidate receives a “discourage” from one of the P-5, their candidacy is sunk.) But at this stage, the ballots are not yet color coded, so candidates’ primary goal is to receive as few “discourage” votes as possible, thereby reducing the chances that one of those discourage votes comes from one of the P5.

On July 21 only one candidate received no “discourage” votes: Antonio Guterres, the former head of the UN Refugee Agency and prime minister of Portugal.

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If he again receives no discourage votes, then it would mean that Guterres is the consensus candidate of the entire council. That is, he’s acceptable to everyone–including each of the P5 — so the council would be under considerable pressure to advance to a formal vote on his candidacy. Most of the council likes him. And, more importantly, no one dislikes him. There would be no reason to draw this contest out any further.

On the other hand, if he receives a discourage vote, then the process of straw polling will continue, and the color coded ballots will be introduced to winnow down the field to candidates who have no “discourage” votes from the P5.

The ballots are secret, and theoretically so are the results. But they will be leaked within minutes of the council session adjuring so we may know who will assume the post on January 1 next year.

UPDATE: Here are the results. As you can see, Guterres received two “discourage” votes, meaning this process will drag on for a while. The 8 discourage votes for Helen Clark bodes ill for her candidacy.