- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

NEW YORK — The race for United Nations secretary-general is moving into its final weeks with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon well in front, but the late entry of Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who would be the first woman in the post, muddles the odds.

Seven declared candidates are now in the running to succeed Kofi Annan in January, and more could enter. They include a U.N. official who writes novels, the deputy prime minister of a recently deposed government, an ambassador with a passion for disarmament, a prince with peacekeeping experience, and a former World Bank executive from a shattered nation.

All the declared candidates are from Asia — which under an informal rotation system expects to field the next secretary-general — except Mrs. Vike-Freiberga, whose candidacy could sink on the geographic considerations despite the fact that several nations would like to see a woman in the post.

China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, signaled early that it would not accept a candidate from a country outside Asia.

Singapore’s ambassador to the United States, Heng Chee Chan, has been widely mentioned as a highly qualified Asian woman who could satisfy nearly everyone. She is well- thought-of by Washington, and regarded as particularly strong in trade and economic issues, and familiar with the United Nations, having been the Singaporean ambassador to the world body before she came to Washington a decade ago. But she and her government insist that she is not a candidate.

Mrs. Vike-Freiberga’s prospects will become clearer after a straw poll among Security Council members tomorrow. Mr. Ban topped two previous polls.

The Asian and African groups agree that the next secretary-general must be from Asia. Washington appears to have accepted that it cannot win approval for someone outside Asia, however qualified, without a bruising fight.

New candidates can still come forward until the Security Council members make their selection, something they hope to do in the next three weeks. Under U.N. rules, the council chooses a single candidate whose selection must be ratified by the General Assembly.

Mr. Annan steps down at the end of the year after a decade in a job that frustrates description. The U.N. secretary-general is both an administrator and mediator, a global conscience and a figurehead.

The job pays approximately $275,000 a year, with a mansion overlooking the East River in Manhattan. Unless one of the five permanent members of the Security Council wants the secretary-general out, the successful candidate can expect to serve a second five-year term.

The Americans have made clear that they want someone who will be more “secretary” than “general,” with excellent management skills and a commitment to transparency and fiscal reform. “A decaffeinated Kofi Annan,” as some have put it.

Based on their resumes and public statements, candidates who fill that description include the front-running Mr. Ban, a soft-spoken South Korean who has promised to heal rifts between member states and pursue efforts to streamline the 61-year-old international organization.

His public persona is more soothing than passionate, leading some private organizations to worry that he would not challenge governments on human rights and other internal issues. He is increasingly seen as the candidate the five veto-bearing permanent members can live with, rather than anyone’s first choice.

Ashraf Ghani, 57, a new entrant who was Afghan finance minister during the post-Taliban period, also may have some traction. He drafted a reconstruction plan that raised nearly $30 billion in 2001, and is well-known to State Department and White House officials. American educated, he also has had a global career at the World Bank.

But he is not nearly as well known as Shashi Tharoor, the telegenic Indian author and U.N. communications czar who placed second in the last straw poll. Mr. Tharoor, 50, has been campaigning vigorously, courting foreign officials, American Jewish groups and worldwide popular opinion.

Mr. Tharoor’s dedication to the United Nations the past 25 years may work against him, because U.S. and British diplomats say a career officer may not be the best person to reform the organization.

Surakiart Sathirathai, 48, the former deputy prime minister of Thailand, has been lining up support for almost two years, a campaign that was derailed by a coup in his homeland last week.

His formal support from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has effectively shut out candidates from nine other nations, including Singapore’s Mrs. Chan. Nonetheless, council ambassadors want more candidates to come forward to give them a wider choice.

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