The UN Security Council holds its first informal poll Thursday on the dozen candidates competing to succeed Ban Ki-moon as secretary-general on Jan. 1.
The 15 council members have decided to keep the vote secret — a sharp contrast to the informal "straw" polls 10 years ago which were made public and led to Ban's election to the world's top diplomatic post.
Japan's UN Ambassador Koro Bessho, who holds the rotating council presidency, reiterated Wednesday that he would only be confirming that the poll was held behind closed doors.
According to the UN Charter, the secretary-general is chosen by the 193-member General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council. In practice, this has meant that the council's five permanent members — the US, Russia, China, Britain and France — have veto power over the candidates.
By tradition, the job of secretary-general has rotated among regions and Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe have all held the top post. East European nations, including Russia, argue that they have never had a secretary-general and it is their turn. There has also never been a woman secretary-general and a group of 56 nations are campaigning for the first female UN chief.
The 12 candidates include six men and six women — eight from Eastern Europe, two from Latin America, one from Western Europe and one from the Asia-Pacific region.
For the first time this year the General Assembly held two-hour webcast hearings where candidates made their case to be the next secretary-general and answered questions from UN member states. For the first time, each candidate has also met informally with Security Council members behind closed doors for an hour, Japan's Bessho said.
Britain's UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said Wednesday that "the added transparency and all the other improvements in the process that the UK and others have advocated have increased the chances of the UN having a stronger next secretary-general than it otherwise would have had."
According to council diplomats, the 15 council members will receive ballots for each of the 12 candidates with three choices: "encourage," ''discourage" and "no opinion." The result for each candidate will be conveyed to the ambassador from the candidate's country, who will also be told the highest and lowest votes, with no names, the diplomats said.
Another informal poll is expected to take place next week followed by several more in August, and possibly September.
There is no deadline for potential candidates and at least one more, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, is making a late bid and has requested that the Australian government formally nominate him.
The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy surrounding the poll, said they hope the informal polls will narrow the choices, and that a new secretary-general will be elected in late September or October.
In the final straw poll in early October 2006, Ban received 14 "encourage" votes, 1 "no opinion" and no "discourage" vote, and days later the Security Council nominated the former South Korean foreign minister by acclamation to succeed Kofi Annan. In 1996, Annan was vetoed by the French — but after a few days of talks, France agreed to support him and he got the job.