By Rowena McNaughton
An antiquated electoral system has meant that Ban Ki Moon didn’t even have to adjust his comfortable pose to resume his cushioned seat at the top of the UN for a second term. This should worry everyone.
IMAGINE your station is so revered that your comment is hungered for across the globe. You are in a position of influence, and when you bother to mutter that you have a point to say, scribes come running. In fact, if you don’t comment, questions are raised. The heads of the 192 members states in which you serve all look to you as the quasi warrior of democracy: you are expected to trumpet the moral high ground. With such influence you would expect that selection for this role is screened to the highest democratic level- a state that you indeed broadcast profusely. Yet it is precisely without a transparent democratic election process that Ban Ki Moon was on Tuesday re-elected to serve as the UN’s eighth chief.
For those of us, and let’s be honest, “us” is all but the 15 members of the UN security council who had a say in the appointment, the non-democratic process that has sadly become the hallmark of the security councils’ decision making process, is troubling. The sign off for the head of the world body came after just one closed-door meeting – off limits to members of the UN, let alone civil society or media – of the security council where by they endorsed Ban’s wish to lead until December 31, 2017.
How did this come to be? You can thank a World War II victor’s privilege which gave veto power to the five permanent members of the Security Council.
Aside from the wrong precedent that this election screams and the need for modern reform, what this process also sadly aluminates is the questionable impartiality of the Security Council when selecting a chief. Why would a council member support a leader that is going to challenge them? Let us remember the days of Ban’s predecessor, Kofi Annan; who unlike Ban who is generally revered as one of the most-pro-American secretary generals ever, Annan’s post is remembered because of his grand opposition towards Bush’s war on terror.
“Kofi Annan, by virtue of who he was and what he said, was able to make the UN a more important feeling place,” says James Traub, a freelance author who writes about the UN for the New York Times Magazine. “I think people around the UN would say that Ban by who he is and what he says, has made the UN a less important-feeling place.”
Observers have commented that this exclusionary electoral process simply breads a leader who from the outset of their appointment is playing the re-election game. UN commentators in particular, have suggested this is evidenced by Ban’s overt willingness to accommodate the world’s powers. Hone in on the five members of the Security Council, and despite a few run-ins – notably with Russia over his handling of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, Ban has been careful not to upset all of the five on any one issue.
“This very human temptation for a second term is so overwhelming, so intoxicating that the incoming secretary-general’s main effort in office is wholly conditioned by this desire,” says Anwarul Chowdhury, former Present of the UN Security Council in 2000 and 2001 and former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN.
“The conventional understanding in the corridors of the U.N is that the debt that an SG accrues from the P5 (permanent SC members) during his first term for his re-election gets paid off during the second terms. This arrangement serves both the secretary general and P5 well,” she says.
While it is an absolute overhaul of the election system that’s needed – to a fully transparent, and participatory one that has full engagement with all member-states and civil society – it is worth noting that it’s the UN’s reputation that is on the line.
A reputation, and urgency, that Chowdhury aptly surmises: “The suffering image and credibility of the UN in the eyes of the international community in recent years underscores the increasing need for effective and committed leadership that puts the organisation before self and is not solely triggered by “command and control” mode.”
While Ban may indeed turn out like the Peruvian diplomat Javier Perez de Cueller, who held the UN chief post for a decade until 1992 and was known for his “back-room” diplomacy in his first term and in second term over saw seminal world events, it is perhaps time that the UN does not have.