Thursday, 6 October 2016

WORLD: Who's ''Guterres'': the next UN Secretary General?

The race to become the next United Nations Secretary General has reached its conclusion. After months of extensive speculation and uncertainty, the Security Council informally announced that former Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, has been chosen for the job, with a formal vote scheduled today.

Guterres secured 13 votes in favor of his candidacy in a closed-door straw poll, with two countries offering no opinion over whether he should pursue the job as the world's top diplomat. But the secret poll made it clear that the five veto wielding powers, were unanimous in their support for Guterres. The future United Nations  leader enjoys the trust of the key UN powers: China, France, Britain, US and Russia.

Mr Antonio Guterres entered into politics in 1976 in Portugal first democratic election after the ''Carnation Revolution'' that ended five decades of dictatorship. Following the retirement of Cavaro Silva in 1995, the Socialist Party won the general election and Guterres became Prime Minister of Portugal, with a style markedly different from that his predecessor, based on dialogue and discussion with all sections of society.

Guterres was a popular prime minister in the first year of his government. Portugal enjoyed a solid economic expansion under his tenure, which allowed the Socialist Party to reduce budget deficits while increasing welfare spending

Guterres was re-elected in 1999, and from January to July 2000, he occupied the Presidency of the European Council. This second term in government was not as successful as the first. Internal party conflicts, along with a slowdown of the economic growth damaged his authority and popularity. In December 2001, following a disastrous result for the Socialist Party in the local elections, Guterres resigned.

In 2005, Antonio Guterress was elected by the UN General Assembly to become the 10th High Commissioner for Refugees, serving for a decade until the end of 2015. As head of UNHCR, Mr Guterres led the agency through some of the world's worse refugee crises, including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and, during that time he repeatedly appealed to Western states to do more to help refugees fleeing the conflicts.

Despite his rich political credentials, Mr Antonio Guterress' success as the next UN Secretary General might not depend on his charisma. The UNSC's unspoken but unmistakable rule about the UN Secretary Generals is that they must come across as affable enough so as to be the cause of international controversies, but also flexible enough to accommodate the US disproportionate influence over the United Nations, particularly the Security Council.

At the end of their terms, the success of failure of these secretaries has been largely determined by their willingness to play by the aforementioned rule: Boutros Boutros Ghali had his fallout with the US, as Kurt Waldheim also did. But both Annan and Ban learned their lessons well and followed the script to the end of their terms.

Prof Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert

Photo Credit: Getty Images: Antonio Guterres, the next UN Secretary General