New Delhi: António Guterres, a former Socialist prime minister of Portugal between 1995 and 2002 is all set to succeed South Korea’s Ban Ki-moon on 1 January 2017 as the next United Nations Secretary General. An engineer by qualification, Guterres first foray in Portuguese politics began in 1976 after the Carnation revolution that ended over a half-century of dictatorship in the Iberian nation, as BBC reports. Guterres became the leader of the Socialist Party in 1992 and was elected as the prime minister in 1995. He headed the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) between 2005 and 2015.
The 67-year-old Guterres was picked on Wednesday with the 15 members of the UN Security Council reaching a “surprisingly swift consensus" in their sixth straw poll, as The New York Times reports. The significance of the consensus cannot be underestimated as it comes in the backdrop of the ongoing chill in the ties between the West and Russia over the Ukraine and Syrian crises. The Wall Street Journal explains, “Russia, one of the council’s five members with veto power, was considered the wild card in the selection process after earlier indicating it preferred the UN’s top job go to an Eastern European for the first time." As WSJ adds, there was also considerable pressure for naming the first woman to the post.
Thirteen countries were in favour of the former Portuguese prime minister and none were against, as The Telegraph reports. The entire process began publicly in April and his confirmation on Thursday by the General Assembly is a mere formality as member countries customarily back the decision of the Security Council.
Foreign Policy reports, Guterres’s appointment “as welcomed by U.N. insiders with a degree of elation not seen since one of their own, Kofi Annan, rose through the ranks to become the world’s top diplomat. Like Annan, Guterres has charisma to spare and deep experience in U.N. matters, having served as the head of the organization’s refugee agency (UNHCR) for a decade."
Guterres’ selection as the head of UN bureaucracy has, however, dashed the hopes of the world body seeing a first-ever appointment of a woman for the job. In fact, as Foreign Policy reports, “The slate of hopefuls for the top spot included seven women with impressive resumes, including at least one former prime minister, several foreign ministers, and various top UN officials."
Yet the nomination of as many as seven women for Secretary General’s post is a milestone, considering the fact that in the last 70 years, only three times have women ever been proposed as candidates, as The Huffington Post reports. And one of them was an Indian. In 1952, the Soviet Union put forward Vijay Lakshmi Pandit of India among four candidates from developing countries.
Major world powers have welcomed Guterres’ selection. Russia’s ambassador the UN, Vitaly Churkin, who currently is the president of the Security Council this month informed, “Today after six straw polls we have a clear favorite, and his name is António Guterres", as WSJ reports. US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power said, “In the end, there was just a candidate whose experience, vision and versatility across a range of areas proved compelling."
Indian ambassador to the UN Syed Akbaruddin tweeted, “Congratulations & Best wishes. India welcomes Antonio Manuel de Olivera Guterres as next Secretary General of @UN," as PTI reports.