United Nations Secretary-General selection, 2016

United Nations Secretary-General election, 2016
United Nations
21 July – 13 October 2016
Nominee António Guterres Vuk Jeremić Miroslav Lajčák
Country  Portugal  Serbia  Slovakia
UNSC final 'Encourage' votes[1]
13 / 15
7 / 15
7 / 15
GA vote[2] Acclamation None None
Nominee Irina Bokova Helen Clark Susana Malcorra
Country  Bulgaria  New Zealand  Argentina
UNSC final 'Encourage' votes[1]
7 / 15
6 / 15
5 / 15
GA vote[2] None None None

Results of all straw polls

Secretary General before election

Ban Ki-Moon

Elected Secretary General

António Guterres

An indirect Secretary-General election was held in October 2016 to choose the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations, who will succeed Ban Ki-moon on 1 January 2017. Candidates from the five permanent members of the Security Council were not considered for the role.[3] In a series of straw polls in the Security Council, António Guterres of Portugal emerged as the presumptive nominee, having 13 'encourage' votes, 2 abstentions and no 'discourage' vote in the sixth round on 5 October.[1] On 6 October, the Security Council recommended Guterres to the General Assembly,[4] which formally selected him by acclamation on 13 October.[2]

Most other nominees receiving support were Eastern Europeans. The Eastern European Group is the only one of the UN Regional Groups not to have been represented in the office.


Few rules govern the selection of the Secretary-General. The only guiding text, Article 97 of the United Nations Charter, states "The Secretary-General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council". As a result, the selection is subject to the veto of any of the five permanent members of the Security Council.[5] In 1946, the General Assembly adopted a resolution stating it was "desirable for the Security Council to proffer one candidate only for the consideration of the General Assembly, and for debate on the nomination in the General Assembly to be avoided."[6]

The Charter's minimal language has since been supplemented by other procedural rules and accepted practices. Traditionally, candidates from the Permanent Five members of the Security Council (China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and United States) are not considered for the position of Secretary-General to avoid further concentration of power within the United Nations. This is a matter of precedent and convention, rather than a written rule.[3]

While former officeholders represent a wide range of countries, there has never been a female Secretary-General.[7] There were numerous female candidates in 2016, including several from outside Eastern Europe.[8] In December 2015 the UN general assembly and president of the security council, US ambassador Samantha Power wrote a joint letter to all member states encouraging them to nominate female candidates as well as men.[9] Equality Now launched a campaign to elect a female Secretary-General with the title "Time for a Woman: United Nations—it’s been over 70 years, elect a female Secretary-General"[10]

Because of the informal regional rotation scheme, many commentators speculated that the next UN Secretary-General would come from the Eastern European Group, as that region has never produced a Secretary-General. However, tension between Russia and Western permanent members over the conflict in Ukraine raised the possibility of deadlock over an Eastern European nominee, meaning that candidates from other regions (particularly non-European members of the Western European and Others Group and Latin America) were seriously considered.[11]

The absence of a formal campaign has, as in past years, led to much speculation as to potential candidates, only a few of whom have actually been endorsed by their national governments. There has been growing criticism of the opacity of the process, with increased calls by NGOs such as the 1 for 7 Billion campaign and The Elders, as well as some states, for a more formal selection and appointment process in which candidates engage in a more public discussion of their views and platforms. Writing in Singapore's Straits Times, Simon Chesterman has argued that, for an organisation as important as the United Nations, "having its leader chosen by the lowest common denominator of what the P5 finds acceptable is not good enough".[12]


The Security Council and General Assembly took steps to make the selection process more transparent and open in 2016 and sent a letter to member states asking them to nominate candidates for the position.[13] In practice, previous secretaries-general were chosen behind closed doors by the Security Council and then had their names submitted to General Assembly for ratification. No candidate has ever been rejected by the General Assembly.[14]

Seventieth session of the United Nations General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft advocated that the General Assembly select a candidate and held public meetings from 12–14 April 2016 where assembly members questioned candidates.[15][16] Lykketoft had advocated for the General Assembly to select a candidate and in December 2015, had sent out a joint letter soliciting candidates from member countries, with replies due by end of July 2016.[17] Additionally, members states and social society were given the opportunity to ask questions to each candidate in televised audiences.[18]


At the time of the final straw poll on 5 October 2016, there were ten candidates for the post. Portugal's former Prime Minister and former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres led in all six straw polls. Deputy Speaker of the Croatian Parliament Vesna Pusić withdrew on 4 August after the first straw poll, in which she came in last position with 11 "discourage" votes, followed by the withdrawal of Montenegro's Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Lukšić on 24 August and the withdrawal of Christiana Figueres on 12 September. Kristalina Georgieva entered the race on 28 September; although the Prime Minister of Bulgaria nominated Kristalina Georgieva as its new sole candidate for the Secretary-General's position, the decision to withdraw from the race can only be done by the candidates; therefore, Irina Bokova decided to continue in the race, leaving Bulgaria with two candidates.[19][20]

Official candidates

Official candidates[16]
Image Name Prior experience Nominator Nominated Regional group Endorsements
Bokova, IrinaIrina Bokova Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria (1996–1997)
Director-General of UNESCO (2009–present)

(Support withdrawn[19])

11 February 2016 Eastern European Group (EEG)
Clark, HelenHelen Clark Prime Minister of New Zealand (1999–2008)
Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (2009–present)
 New Zealand 5 April 2016 Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Kristalina Georgieva European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response (2010–2014)
European Commissioner for the Budget and Human Resources (2014–present)
 Bulgaria 28 September 2016 Eastern European Group (EEG)
Gherman, NataliaNatalia Gherman Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Moldova (2013–2016)
Acting Prime Minister of Moldova (2015)
 Moldova 19 February 2016 Eastern European Group (EEG)
Guterres, AntónioAntónio Guterres Prime Minister of Portugal (1995–2002)
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2005–2015)
 Portugal 29 February 2016 Western European and Others Group (WEOG)  Cape Verde[21][22]
 East Timor[25]
Jeremić, VukVuk Jeremić Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia (2007–2012)
President of the United Nations General Assembly (2012–2013)
 Serbia 12 April 2016 Eastern European Group (EEG)
Kerim, SrgjanSrgjan Kerim Minister of Foreign Affairs of Macedonia (2000–2001)
President of the United Nations General Assembly (2007–2008)
 Macedonia 30 December 2015 Eastern European Group (EEG)
Lajčák, MiroslavMiroslav Lajčák High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina (2007–2009)
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia (2009–2010; 2012–present)
 Slovakia 25 May 2016 Eastern European Group (EEG)
Malcorra, SusanaSusana Malcorra Undersecretary General of the United Nations for Field Support (2008–2012)
Chef de Cabinet of the United Nations Secretariat (2012–2015)
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Argentina (2015–present)
 Argentina 23 May 2016 Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Türk, DaniloDanilo Türk Slovenian Ambassador to the United Nations (1991–2000)
Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations for Political Affairs (2000–2005)
President of Slovenia (2007–2012)
 Slovenia 9 February 2016 Eastern European Group (EEG)

Withdrawn candidates

Withdrawn candidates
Image Name Prior experience Nominator Nominated Withdrawn Regional group
Pusić, VesnaVesna Pusić Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia (2011–2016)  Croatia 14 January 2016 4 August 2016[26][27] Eastern European Group (EEG)
Lukšić, IgorIgor Lukšić Prime Minister of Montenegro (2010–2012)
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro (2012–present)
 Montenegro 15 January 2016 23 August 2016[28][29] Eastern European Group (EEG)
Figueres, ChristianaChristiana Figueres Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2010–2016)  Costa Rica 7 July 2016 12 September 2016[30][31] Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Candidates who clearly expressed their intention to run

In July 2016, it was revealed that former Labor Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd asked the Government of Australia (then a government of the Liberal/National Coalition) to nominate him for Secretary-General in April 2016.[32][33][34] At its meeting on 28 July, the Cabinet was divided on his suitability for the role and, on that basis, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull decided to decline the request the next day; since nomination by the Australian government was considered a necessary prerequisite for candidacy, Turnbull's decision essentially ended Rudd's campaign;[35] Rudd later confirmed as much.[36][37][38]

Potential candidates named in the press and elsewhere

Eastern European Group

Latin American and Caribbean Group

Western European and Others Group

Security Council straw polls

Graph showing the performance of each candidate across all straw polls
Results of all straw polls per candidate

The Security Council held a total of 6 informal closed-door straw polls where members of the Council were asked to indicate whether they "encouraged", "discouraged" or had "no opinion" regarding the candidates.[46][47] The initial five straw polls took place on 21 July, 5 August, 29 August, 9 September, and 26 September.[48][49] During the sixth straw poll, the five permanent members of the Security Council voted using color coded ballots to indicate the likelihood of a veto; as António Guterres did not receive any discouraged vote from a permanent member and exceeded the necessary encouraged vote of nine members, Guterres was declared by the Security Council as the "clear favourite".[50] The next day, the Security Council formally adopted, by acclamation, the resolution recommending Guterres to be the next Secretary-General for a term of office from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2021.[51]

United Nations Secretary-General selection straw poll results
Candidate 21 July[52][53] 5 August[54][55] 29 August[56][57] 9 September[58][59] 26 September[59][60] 5 October[1][61] Final Vote[51][62]
Bulgaria Irina Bokova 9 4 2 7 7 1 7 5 3 7 5 3 6 7 2 7 (3P) 7 (2P) 1 Withdrawn
New Zealand Helen Clark 8 5 2 6 8 1 6 8 1 6 7 2 6 9 0 6 (1P) 8 (3P) 1 (1P) Withdrawn
Costa Rica Christiana Figueres 5 5 5 5 8 2 2 12 1 5 10 0 Withdrawn[63]
Bulgaria Kristalina Georgieva Not yet nominated 5 (2P) 8 (2P) 2 (1P) Withdrawn
Moldova Natalia Gherman 4 4 7 3 10 2 2 12 1 3 11 1 3 11 1 3 (1P) 11 (3P) 1 (1P) Withdrawn
Portugal António Guterres 12 0 3 11 2 2 11 3 1 12 2 1 12 2 1 13 (4P) 0 2 (1P) Acclaimed
Serbia Vuk Jeremić 9 5 1 8 4 3 7 5 3 9 4 2 8 6 1 7 (2P) 6 (3P) 2 Withdrawn
Republic of Macedonia Srgjan Kerim 9 5 1 6 7 2 6 7 2 8 7 0 6 9 0 5 (2P) 9 (3P) 1 Withdrawn
Slovakia Miroslav Lajčák 7 3 5 2 6 7 9 5 1 10 4 1 8 7 0 7 (2P) 6 (2P) 2 (1P) Withdrawn
Montenegro Igor Lukšić 3 7 5 2 9 4 Withdrawn[64]
Argentina Susana Malcorra 7 4 4 8 6 1 7 7 1 7 7 1 7 7 1 5 (2P) 7 (1P) 3 (2P) Withdrawn
Croatia Vesna Pusić 2 11 2 Withdrawn[65]
Slovenia Danilo Türk 11 2 2 7 5 3 5 6 4 7 6 2 7 7 1 5 (1P) 8 (4P) 2 Withdrawn
Candidate received at least one "encouraged" from a veto-wielding P5 member
Candidate received at least one "discouraged" from a veto-wielding P5 member

Official nomination and appointment

At the conclusion of the straw polls process, António Guterres emerged as the Security Council's consensus candidate. After the last straw poll on 5 October, Guterres was formally elected by the Security Council, by acclamation, on 6 October, and his nomination to the General Assembly was formalized with the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2311.[4] In that resolution, and in accordance with current practice, the Security Council recommends that the General Assembly should appoint Guterres to a five-year term of office as Secretary General, from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2021.[4]

On 13 October 2016, the seventy-first session of the United Nations General Assembly formally appointed Guterres as the next secretary-general, for the five year term beginning on 1 January 2017. The General Assembly vote on the appointment of Guterres was by acclamation.[2]


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Further reading

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