On the day that Portugal celebrated 106 years of Republic and 873 years of the Zamora Treaty, which gave independence to the country, the Portuguese diplomacy had also the opportunity to celebrate the sixth victory of António Guterres on his process to become the United Nation Secretary-General, showing that a diplomacy with low resources can run for top jobs, against all odds.
The Election Process
For the first time the General Assembly and the Security Council have created a procedure of selection and appointing more transparent and open. First, letters were sent to all member states informing then to nominate their candidates. After, only twelve countries nominated candidates for Secretary-General. Then, they went through a process that involved auditions and debates between the candidates, in this way the member states and the people around the world would hear their ideas for their five years mandate. Civil society organisations were able to put some questions to the candidates.
This process helped to turn the election more transparent and open, but the candidates had to be first voted in the restrict group of the Security Council, where the five permanent members (5P: China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States) have the veto power. The Security Council did straw polls which helped to understand who was the favourite for the UN Secretary-General position. Guterres who was always placed in first got his best result during the last straw poll (13 encourage, 0 discourage, 2 no opinion), last 5th of October. In this last straw poll there was a distinction in the votes from the 5P, so it was possible to understand that one of the two no opinion votes was from the 5P club.
During the straw polls three candidates withdraw their candidacy, but before the last straw poll a new Bulgarian candidate appeared, the European Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources, Kristalina Georgieva. In Portugal she was seen as a big threat to Guterres candidacy, because since the start of the election process many were the voices saying that now would be the time for a Eastern European woman in front of the UN. Even the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, said that he “had that feeling of being run a marathon and suddenly appears a competitor entering in the last 100 meters to try to win the marathon”, in a clear reference to Kristalina Georgieva who was not expose to all the process like the twelve candidates.
She was the second Bulgarian candidate, supported by Germany and the European People’s Party, despite this support she was not able to get more votes than her compatriot Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General. Even after Bokova lost the Bulgarian government support, she decided to keep her candidacy, and even so she was placed in fourth in the last straw poll, being the first woman on the list.
After the sixth straw poll the Security Council decided to present the name of Guterres by acclamation to the UN General Assembly, where on the 13rd of October, António Guterres was appointed next UN Secretary-General also by acclamation. On the 12th of December, Guterres made his oath in front of the General Assembly, and started his five years mandate on the first day of 2017, succeeding to the South-Korean Ban Ki-moon, who was Secretary-General during two mandates.
Who is António
Mostly of you might not know him, but Guterres, who is engineer, was Prime Minister of Portugal between 1995 and 2002, during this time East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, got its independence back after 27 years of Indonesia illegal occupation. Guterres was deeply involved in solving this crisis, which permitted him to get a big networking that now helped him to get the necessary international support for the UN Secretary-General position. It was during his mandate as Prime-minister that Portugal had the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, for the second time since its accession, during this presidency was held the first EU-Africa summit and the Lisbon Agenda was adopted with a “new strategic goal for the Union in order to strengthen employment, economic reform and social cohesion as part of a knowledge-based economy”.
He was also during many
years deputy in the Portuguese Parliament, as well member of the Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe and very active in the Socialist
International, where he was also president. In Portugal he founded the
Portuguese Refugee Council, that celebrated 25 years last September and an
association to defend the Portuguese consumers rights. More recently,
António Guterres was member of the Portuguese Council of State, during Marcelo
Rebelo de Sousa presidency.
António Guterres, who can speak fluently three UN official languages, have a big professional career, but the most important place where he served, and is mostly recognised for that, was as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), during ten years. Guterres faced the start of the so called refugee crisis, created mainly because of the conflicts in the Middle East region, he had contact to a cruel reality of people who had to leave everything behind to try to find a new and better life in other countries.
What can we expect from his work as UNSG?
During his work in UNHCR, Guterres was able to reduce the staff members at the headquarters of the organisation and by doing so he increased the number of staff close to the hotspots, allowing the UN agency to have a quick response to the problems. He also improved the gender parity inside the refugees agency, and he promised to do the same at the UN’s top job, starting by selecting women for the position of Deputy Secretary-General and for chief if his cabinet.
The choice of Amina Mohammed as UN Deputy Secretary-General is important not only because gender parity, but as well because she is from Nigeria. The African continent will deserve much attention from UN, as it is one of the regions on earth which is facing the most complicated challenges. She was Minister of Environment of Nigeria, leaving the climate change and the Paris agreement as another important focus during Guterres’ mandate.
Guterres as UN Secretary-General will be the keeper of the three pillars of the organisation that he commands, which are: peace and security, sustainable development and human rights. Guterres will try to channel the organisation resources to the prevention of crisis, he mentioned a few times that believes "prevention must be not only a priority, but the priority of everything we do". Preventing crisis, will prevent people from suffering.
Many will be the global challenges that Guterres will have to face during his five years mandate, but also the UN faces some challenges, the organisation needs reforms. The organisation has to be less bureaucratic and more people-centred. In the times that we live when States are cutting their budgets for international cooperation for development, it is necessary to mobilise new stakeholders and deepen cooperation with other international and regional organisations. Civil society/NGO’s and the private sector also need to be heard and work in cooperation with the UN agencies, in order to avoid overlapping of development programs. More international cooperation will promote sustainability and development through Agenda 2030, which will be preventing crisis.
Guterres, who is a practicing Christian, believes that values such as tolerance and solidarity are universal
values shared by all cultures and religions. Guterres is an apologist of multicultural
societies, in all senses, but societies must use their diversity as a force
able to keep respect for
tolerance and solidarity among people, and not the opposite as we see it
happening in today's world.
It is true that the position of UN Secretary-General is “the most impossible job in the world”, as said by the first UN Secretary-General the Norwegian Trygve Lie, but Guterres he knows very well how hard is the job after spending two mandates in front of one of the most important UN agencies. He could have run for President of Portugal, but he likes to fight for a better world and be on the front line where he can really do something to change the world. So I do believe that he is the right Human being to bring back the true Humanity to our world, but he will not be alone, Guterres will have all the support from the many staff members of the UN agencies, who fight every day for a better and equal world.