World

The Job Interview in Front of the World

President Obama Attends Annual UN General Assembly
U.S. President Barack Obama, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Russian President Vladimir Putin sit together to mark the 70th annual U.N. General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York City September 28. For the first time, candidates vying to become secretary-general will compete publicly. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

For the first time in the 70-year history of the United Nations, candidates vying to become secretary-general will publicly compete for the world’s top diplomatic post.

Beginning on Tuesday, three days of “informal dialogues” will take place at UNHQ in New York. The general public will be allowed to ask questions through civil society representatives and via social media platforms. The president of the General Assembly and the U.N. Non-Governmental Liaison Service have, together, created a website where people can submit written, filmed or recorded questions using the hashtag #UNSGcandidates.

Over 500 questions have already been submitted by the public according to the U.N., ranging from: “What criteria would the candidate use to make senior appointments?’ to “How will you bring peace to the Middle East?”

The new selection process marks a sharp break with the past, where, traditionally, decisions have always been made behind closed-doors by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council;  Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States.

Now, in televised proceedings, the eight candidates will make a 10-minute pitch in front of the General Assembly, comprised of 193 member states. They will then be individually questioned by member states in demanding two-hour sessions.

“Finally, some transparency in a process that has been shrouded in secrecy for 70 years.  Candidates appearing before Member States in the General Assembly is an important first step, and a major victory for the 1 for 7 Billion campaign, but more must be done to make the appointment process worthy of the UN’s top job,” says Ben Donaldson from United Nations Association UK and member of the 1 for 7 Billion steering committee, a global campaign supported by over 750 organisations committed to getting the best UN Secretary-General.

“This is a potentially game changing process,” said Mogens Lykketoft, the assembly’s current president, in an interview with the UN News Centre. “This will be yet another occasion to increase transparency around the whole machinery of the United Nations, through that also the influence of a broader public on what we do here.”

The French ambassador, Francois Delattre, said: "We have decided collectively to open up the race." The hearings “are important and new, and I do plan to attend to listen to each of the candidates,” he told AFP.

Candidates include Unesco chief Irina Bokova from Bulgaria and Helen Clark, former New Zealand prime minister and head of the U.N. Development Programme.

A Security Council diplomat, who asked not to be named, told The Telegraph: "There could be some surprises. It's a bit like TV election debates. You could have someone who suddenly shines, or someone who goes in strong but then crashes.”

The U.N. has faced criticism relating to a perceived lack of gender equality and diversity. There has never been a female secretary-general, and no one from Eastern Europe has ever been selected.

“We have to keep clear, I think, that we have to find the best person. But many of us don’t see any reason why the best person should not be a woman for the first time, and that’s an argument in itself,” adds Lykketoft.

The next round of dialogues will be held in June, before the Security Council begins deliberations in July. The winning candidate will become the ninth U.N. secretary-general, succeeding Ban Ki-moon on January 1.