UN cracks open secrecy on selecting next secretary-general

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations Security Council and General Assembly have taken the first step toward removing the secrecy around selecting the next U.N. secretary-general, sending a joint letter inviting member states to submit candidates for the post.

The world body is responding to many countries' demands that the successor to Ban Ki-moon, whose term is up at the end of 2016, be chosen with some measure of transparency. They argue that the CEO of a sprawling multinational corporation, for example, would not be selected as the U.N. has done in the past.

Until now, the selection of the U.N. secretary-general has essentially been determined by the five permanent Security Council members behind closed doors. Next year countries will have the chance to openly interview candidates, and the list of candidates will be shared regularly with all 193 U.N. member states.

The joint letter sent out Tuesday also breaks ground by encouraging countries to consider nominating women. Every secretary-general over the United Nations' 70 years has been a man.

The current General Assembly president, Mogens Lykketoft, made clear his wish that the assembly play a more powerful role. He plans to hold public meetings next spring where countries can question candidates for the job before the Security Council begins its selection process, as the letter says, "by the end of July 2016."

If the majority of the General Assembly supports a candidate, Lykketoft said, that's "an increased de facto power" in choosing who gets the job. From now on, he said, "it is ultimately the General Assembly that takes the decision of the next secretary-general."

But the new reforms haven't affected the heart of the selection process, where the 15-member Security Council meets in private and then submits its candidate for General Assembly approval. Although the assembly can reject the council's candidate, it has never done so.

Inside the council, the five veto-wielding permanent members have the most say: the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China.

That concentration of power often has produced U.N. chiefs with the appearance, some observers have said, of being more secretary than general.

A new campaign for reform in the selection process, called 1 for 7 Billion, has been conducting an online poll asking what qualities people would like to see in the next U.N. chief. "Have the courage to stand up to powerful countries" leads the way with 38 percent of the more than 325 responses so far, spokeswoman Justine Brouillard said Tuesday.

Some council members welcome the new changes. Britain, which has pushed for more transparency, has said it will hold its own informal council meetings with candidates for U.N. chief.

The General Assembly president said that so far, he has received two formal nominations for the next U.N. secretary-general: Srgjan Kerim of Macedonia, a former General Assembly president, and Croatia's foreign minister, Vesna Pusic, a woman.

Countries or groups of countries can submit candidates for the post, and Lykketoft said a country's candidate doesn't have to be one of its citizens.

Russia, which had tried to delay Tuesday's letter until sometime next year, would like the next secretary-general to come from Eastern Europe, where it has wielded influence. But although the post has traditionally shifted among regions, Lykketoft said it's not written anywhere that the U.N. chief has to come from any particular part of the world.

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