Helen Clark decides to seek the post of Secretary General
In a historic move, former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark announced her decision to run for the post of Secretary General of United Nations, instantly winning the support of her one-time political adversary and current Prime Minister John Key.
She announced the move on April 6, 2016 amidst growing global view that it was time the global body had a woman at its helm.
Ms Clark, who was the first elected Prime Minister of New Zealand (1999 to 2008), quit her post as the Leader of the Opposition after suffering a stunning defeat in the general election held in November 2008. She conceded defeat to Mr Key who rode a massive wave in favour of National Party. She resigned from Parliament and left for New York to take up the post of the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a high post, stated to be second only to the UN Secretary General and an Under-Secretary General.
It is ironical that Mr Key announced that he and his government would support the candidature of Ms Clark should she decide to seek the high post. Mr Key and Ms Clark were bitter rivals during and before the 2008 campaign. But tempers have cooled since then and a more seasoned Mr Key sees the value of having a fellow New Zealander on top of the UN where New Zealand could punch above its weight.
Though talk on Helen Clark’s candidature for the UN top job was doing rounds especially in New Zealand, her announcement came after Prime Minister John Key announced the support behind her candidature.
Some say that Mr Key had ‘cooled sufficiently’ soon after his election as Prime Minister in November 2008 and that he had actively supported Ms Clark’s candidacy to the post of UNDP Chief.
“This signalled the bipartisan approach in New Zealand politics,” they said, overlooking the fact that party lines cease to exist beyond the territorial borders.
The Security Council
As an extension, New Zealand’s current role as a non-permanent member of the Security Council for a two-year term probably helps Clark’s candidacy because the country’s diplomats mix in those circles and Wellington has always been viewed with great respect in the international high-tables as a responsible stakeholder in international order.
Ms Clark’s candidature as a serious contender to become the Eighth Secretary General in the UN’s 70-year history gains currency on two counts.
First, her reputation as a fighter who survived nine years as Prime Minister amid the rough-and-tumble of New Zealand politics is being seen within senior levels of the UN as evidence of her ability to withstand the pressures of the so called thankless task of leading the world organisation.
Second, as the Head UNDP for the past seven years, she has proved her mettle as a tough administrator with a conciliatory, rather than conflicting approach.
Soon after she announced her candidature, Ms Clark received support from the members of the New Zealand Labour Party who were enthusiastic, with some of them becoming nostalgic of their association with her.
However, such traction alone will not be sufficient for the top job in the UN, as manoeuvring requires support from permanent members of the UN Security Council.
In terms of Article 97 of the UN Charter, the Secretary General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.
If Ms Clark become the UN Chief, it would be the first time for the world body to choose its Secretary General through a transparent process. All her predecessors, including incumbent Ban-Ki-Moon were chosen by the five permanent members of the Security Council (Britain, France, US, Russia and China) behind closed doors.
In a marked departure, Helen Clark if approved by the UNSC will hand the choice to the UN General Assembly for approval.
Unlike in previous rounds, this time the General Assembly (UN’s World Parliament), in which all 193 member states are represented, is determined to do more.
India, which has a long-standing bid to become a permanent member of the Security Council will have more a pronounced voice in selecting the next Secretary General.
Ms Clark has said that if elected, she will consider some of the outstanding issues confronting the UN. These include poverty in the third world countries especially in Africa; abuse of human rights in authoritarian states of the Middle-East and the rights of women in the developing and under-developed nations.
She would also be called upon to address the growing menace of terrorism.
Other key runners
Not that Ms Clark will have an easy walk to the top post.
Many of her opponents are powerful in their own right. They include Angela Merkel of Germany, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark, Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, Janos Ader of Hungary, Romano Prodi of Italy, Alexander Stubb of Finland and Kevin Rudd of Australia.
Canberra based Australian National University Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Director Ramesh Thakur said that a former Prime Minister has never occupied the post of UN Secretary General.
“America and Russia will ultimately do what is in their interest. They are happier with someone at the foreign minister level used to taking orders; someone they can control,” he said.
Mr Thakur was the Vice-Rector of the United Nations University from 1998 to 2007. That post afforded him the status of Assistant Secretary General of the UN, allowing him to watch the goings-on in the world body from close quarters.
“The race for Secretary General is a ‘delicate dance,’ particularly for the East European candidates. Anyone favoured by Russia will probably be vetoed by the US and anyone favoured by the US will be vetoed by Russia,” Mr Thakur said.
Those arguments do not foreclose the race to the UN top.
Ms Clark is no quitter and will put up a tough fight.
Her win will place New Zealand in a new light on the world stage
Balaji Chandramohan is our India Correspondent based in Delhi.
- Helen Clark at the office of Indian Newslink on June 16, 2007 (Picture by Narendra Bedekar)
- New Zealand Prime Minister endorses former New Zealand Prime Minister- John Key with Helen Clark