United Nations: Argentina’s Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra has shaken up the race for secretary general of the UN with her late entry that makes her the tenth candidate and the fifth woman in an election tipped to favour a female.
Malcorra, who put in her bid Monday about a month after the nine others had made their pitches to the General Assembly, is likely to have an inside track challenging European claims to the position.
She was Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Chef de Cabinet from 2012 to late last year and that position brought her in direct contact with most world leaders, foreign ministers and the highest levels of the international bureaucracy.
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An electronic engineer by training, she is a former IBM executive and has strong administrative credentials in the private sector and across the UN. On an issue of importance to India, Malcorra has continued Argentina’s opposition to expanding the permanent membership of the Security Council.
She has also served as the head of the UN Department of Field Operations, which provides logistic support to peacekeeping operations where India is heavily invested.
Under the tradition of geographic rotation, it is the turn of a European to take the top global diplomatic post and East Europeans had staked their claim, asserting that no one from their region had held the job. Some countries and civil society organisations have been pressing the case for a woman to be made the secretary general for the first time in the UN’s 70-year history.
The eight East Europeans running for the office could now face a tough competition from Malcorra as geographic rotation is only a tradition and not a rule. Already two others outside Eastern Europe – Antonio Guterres, the former Portuguese Prime Minister and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Helen Clark, a former New Zealand Prime Minister who currently heads the UN Development Programme – are contesting.
New Zealand belongs to the Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG) in the UN, giving Clark some claim to the geographic rotation unlike Malcorra.
Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian who is the director general of UNESCO, was considered a strong candidate as she met the criteria of being East European and a woman, while holding a high-level international office.
Only one Latin American, Javier Perz de Cuellar of Peru, has been a secretary general, a position he held from 1982 to 1991.
Till now the secretary general was chosen in a secretive process of backroom bargaining by the Security Council – in reality by its five permanent members – and rubber stamped by the General Assembly.
Although the permanent members of the Security Council still have the final say, for the first time the veil of secrecy has been lifted a bit. The candidates have been publicly announced and have appeared before the General Assembly to state their positions and answer questions from member states as well as representatives of civil society organisations.
They have also been visiting national capitals, meeting privately with diplomats and appearing at other public forums.
Now Malcorra – and any other late entrants – will also have to face the General Assembly.
Malcorra has made several visits to the UN since taking over as foreign minister in December keeping up her international profile.
“The issue of making room for women is generally seen as a matter of justice, and it certainly is, since women account for more than half of the population,” she recently said while launching the Campaign for Gender Parity in International Representation in Argentina.
In a vision statement – a virtual campaign manifesto – she made development the centrepiece. “Only by cultivating greater resilience through sustainable development can we collectively manage the challenges to come, effectively prevent some of, them, and mitigate their effects on people and the planet,” she said.
The 61-year-old Malcorrra has also served as the CEO of Telecom Argentin and as Chief Operating Officer of the World Food Programme.