Issue 38 Communities

Believe It Or Not, There’s An Even More Hotly Contested Election You Should Be Following

by James Poulos

September 23, 2016

Whether you’ve broken out the popcorn or the whiskey for this election, take note: There’s a bigger contest playing out on the world stage as the U.N. prepares to select Ban Ki-moon’s successor. Rather than the Security Council appointing the next chief through a backroom coronation, this year the 193-member General Assembly will nominate candidates. That’s made things interesting as countries vie for their favorites.

Make no mistake: The position is an important one. A good secretary-general can help focus the globe’s frazzled leaders. In the wake of Ban’s uneven tenure, the world community wouldn’t mind a star. He did pull the big global players together for climate agreements in Paris, but on other issues, he’s hit a wall. After a four-year effort, his humanitarian summit dropped in Istanbul, a poster city for 2016’s big trends of scarier terrorism and crueler despotism. But with the right mix of charisma, conniving, and coddling, a talented secretary-general can shift global debates on worldwide problems. 

We don’t have a seat on the Security Council (yet), but we do know who’s leading in the race. Keep your eye on these five contenders:

The Safety: Susana Malcorra

Argentina

If you like oatmeal, you’ll love Susana Malcorra. The Argentine was the outgoing secretary-general’s chef de cabinet and is considered the prudent, if uninspired, choice.

The Heel: Helen Clark

New Zealand

Critics say bare-knuckle turf warrior Helen Clark puts ambition above aid while overseeing the U.N. Development Program. But many agree it’s time for a female chief, which may work in her favor.

The Cosmopolitan: Irina Bokova

Bulgaria

In Cold War-era Bulgaria, Irina Bokova was a born-and-raised communist. Now, the polylingual Francophile is more comfortable running UNESCO or brunching in Monaco than radicalizing the proletariat.

The Ringer: Kristalina Georgieva

Bulgaria

Thanks to British stage whispers that the leading Eastern European candidates aren’t up to snuff, European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva has jumped out as a Bulgarian the West can bring to tea.

The Scold: António Guterres

Portugal

After a janky run as Portuguese prime minister, diehard socialist António Guterres found his groove as U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, berating the European Union for balking on mass Muslim migration.

Art by Lauren Tamaki

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Believe It Or Not, There’s An Even More Hotly Contested Election You Should Be Following