Currently, there is an ongoing process to select the successor of Ban-ki Moon as secretary general of the United Nations. There is little media cover for this process while the role of the head and spokesperson of the United nations isn’t completely unimportant. The United Nations is the biggest intergovernmental organization dedicated to promote dialogue between states and thus solving problems in a peaceful way. Besides this diplomatic and political function, the UN also plays a role in providing humanitarian aid, protecting human rights, the environment and also as a military force in peacekeeping operations around the world(most of them with success). In other words, the person selected to be the leader and major spokesperson of the UN cannot be seen as unimportant.The Secretary General of the United Nations, besides running this Babylonic humanitarian organization, do has some influence as the ‘’world moderator’’ like Franklin Delano Roosevelt envisioned.
Until now, there were four informal and close door straw polls, all won comfortably by António Guterres. The candidate had four positions that earned him international recognition needed to be a candidate for UN Secretary General: Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995-2002, president of the European council in the early 2000, President of the Socialist International from 1999-2005 and UN High comissioner for refugees from 2005 to 2015.
Despite all these positions, he wasn’t only a professional politician but also a brilliant student. He finished his course in electrotechnical engineering in 1971 with the second best score ever in the University. He was assigned as assistant professor right before graduation. Throughout his life he combined politics with voluntary and civic work.He helped for example students from disadvantaged neighborhoods, founding the Portuguese council of refugees in 1991, and founding the Portuguese consumer protection agency. Also, when he finished his tenure as Prime Minister he began voluntarily tutoring kids from excluded neighborhoods to help them enter university and did all that without media exposure.
As the Prime Minister of Portugal, he had his own style of governing based on dialogue, consensus and compromise. He always tried to legislate listening and negotiating not only with the opposition but with trade unions and the civic associations as well. His first term was characterized by his ability to negotiate, the only one in which a government with minority support in parliament was able to complete the 4-year mandate in Portugal. Under his leadership Portugal continued its economic expansion, he made Education a National priority investing in the modernization and innovation of schools and universities and also gave an important boost to scientific research in Portugal. He improved public healthcare, infrastructure, increased the minimum for old-age pensions by 80%, introduced guaranteed income for the poorest, lowered taxes, privatized some small state companies and reduced the debt to GDP ratio, being the last and one of the few Prime Ministers in Portugal to do so.
He also implemented an innovative and bold drug policy, ending the war on drugs by decriminalizing them for personal use. He focused anti-drugs campaigns on prevention and dissuasion. An innovative policy in a time when few politicians in the world had the courage to do so . The measures had impressive results such as lowering drug use and the related diseases that come from that. His approach was a case study for a successful alternative to the war on drugs as was being conducted till then.
As Prime Minister of Portugal, Guterres also impressed European leaders wi
th his diplomatic skills; particularly on the issue of East Timor. In 1975, East Timor was occupied by Indonesia, a US ally and a powerful military force, Guterres led a diplomatic effort in pushing the United States and President Bill Clinton to change its stance and start pressuring Indonesia to allow free elections in East Timor. Despite the initial skepticism of the United states in criticizing a strategic partner like Indonesia, the effort of Guterres was well received. Bill Clinton later made the following comment to former President of East Timor Ramos Horta ‘’ It was Antonio Guterres who most touchingly and persuasively pleaded with me to do something.”
Also during the negotiations of the Nice treaty, Guterres assumed a critical role. France proposed a distribution of votes of that was clearly disadvantageous to smaller countries. In the proposal the smaller countries got 8 votes and the big ones 33.The Prime Minister of Portugal, surprisingly, vetoed. Next, the President of France start negotiating directly with Guterres because he was the ‘’de facto’’ representative of the interests of the smaller countries. The 8/33 vote distribution end up being 12/29, an important victory for the smaller European countries thanks to Guterres’ negotiation skills.
Later he assumed the role as UN High Commissioner for Refugees. He oversaw one of the biggest structural reforms in the organization. He reduced the bureaucratic and inefficient staff in the Geneva headquarters by 20%, and at the same time he increased the organization’s cost effectiveness and emergency response capacity in the field. Above all, during his mandate the UNHCR’s volume of activities tripled after the introduction of a needs-based budget approach., A crucial step since the number of people displaced by conflict almost doubled during his time in office.
Nowadays, politicians are look upon with suspicion and mistrust, they are seen mainly as hungry for power and using their offices to gain more, influence and money. Guterres contrasts with this view, he is seen as someone who uses public offices as a service to the people. There are two clear examples of his attitude in Politics in which he refused higher and more powerful positions. The first, in 1976 when only 27 years old he, he was offered to become secretary of state for healthcare in the Portuguese government. He declined the offer. Two years later he was offered to become the minister of healthcare which he also declined. In both he was sincere and honest enough to admit he wasn’t ready and didn’t understand enough about healthcare to assume such a demanding position. had the sincerity and honesty to admit that he wasn’t ready and that he didn’t understand enough about healthcare to have that position.
Many years later, when former defense minister and EU commissioner António Vitorino returned to Lisbon after approaching a series of European countries, particularly Germany and UK, about the possibility of a candidacy of Guterres to the Socialist International their response was; ‘’why not the EU Comission?’’. Guterres was quite popular in Brussels by then and many countries saw the young Prime Minister who had been a critic of the lack leadership coming from the EU and a vocal supporter of a more united and solidary Europe, the right man for the job. He declined because Portugal was about to have an election shortly and because of family reasons (his wife died months before).
Despite the fact that António Guterres has impressed so many people,the path to victory is still difficult. The votes are secret but everyone is aware that that Guterres is not the favorite of any major power. Russia favors an eastern European candidate – particularly the Bulgarian Irina Bokova; the former director of UNESCO who is a daughter of a communist era politician and studied in an elite university in Moscow, however UNESCO’s admission of Palestine during Irina Bokova’s term is a problem for the United States. Ms Bokova also attended the Kremlin’s Victory Day Parade in Moscow last year, which most European leaders boycotted because of the Ukraine-Russian Conflict. Her election may trigger a US veto. The Americans themselves apparently favor Susana Malcorra who has been slow in gaining traction and may face opposition from the UK, mostly because she is the foreign minister from Argentina, a country that still claims the Falkland Islands. There is also the possibility of a late entry candidacy by Kristalina Georgieva, the Vice President of the European Comission. She is supported by Angela Merkel and some eastern European countries, however, the possibility of her candidacy triggered a diplomatic incident between Russia and Germany, so it’s fair to admit that Georgieva doesn’t particularly excite Russia.
In this article, I was aiming to discuss a candidate in an impartial way. However, I do admit that I admire Guterres I want him elected. Despite my preference for his candidacy, none of what I said it’s false or exaggerated, his merits and qualities are recognized worldwide. He was praised by many different world leaders among who Kofi Annan, Jacques Delors and even Bill Clinton. Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State refers to Guterres as a ‘’brilliant international personality’’. The UN summarizes the role of the Secretary General of the United Nations as being ‘’equal parts diplomat and advocate, civil servant and CEO’’. Guterres, has proven experience with all these qualification as I demonstrated in this article. Without diminishing the other candidates, some of them with great virtues and merits, I believe that no one has the experience, the knowledge and charisma of António Guterres. In a time of distrust of politicians and politics across the globe, and a general lack of faith in the role of the UN, due to its numerous failures; a cosmopolitan, open minded, experienced, tolerant, with a brilliant communicative skills and willing to go in the field instead of staying in his office, isn’t just the right man for the job, he is what the World needs.