- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

NEW YORK — South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon remains the front-runner to succeed Kofi Annan as U.N. secretary-general, with 13 out of 15 possible votes in a Security Council straw poll yesterday.

However, his candidacy is not a sure thing, as diplomats wondered last night whether it was a permanent, veto-wielding member of the council who voted against him.

“Next Monday we will have a straw poll with different color ballots, and we’ll see what happens,” said Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. “I am not going to divulge any secrets, but Russia as a matter of principle is in favor of having an Asian candidate this time around.”

“We have a number of strong Asian candidates,” he added.

U.N. communications czar Shashi Tharoor of India came in second with eight votes of encouragement, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga third with seven encouragements, and former Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai received five in favor and seven votes against. The rest of the field scored only three positive votes each. They are Prince Zeid Raad al Hussein of Jordan, Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan and Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka.

Anonymous straw polls of council members have been designed to test the level of support for a candidate, without binding nations to a position. Ambassadors mark an anonymous ballot to encourage, discourage or have no opinion on a candidacy, and they may encourage or discourage as many as they want.

Mr. Ban, a soft-spoken and self-effacing career diplomat, has come out at the top of each one.

Observers had been eagerly awaiting yesterday’s poll to gauge the impact of the candidacy of Mrs. Vike-Freiberga, whose overwhelming distinction is that she is the sole non-Asian in a race whose winner is expected to come from that region.

“This is, I think, a challenge to the notion that the next secretary general should come from Asia,” said a North African ambassador disseminating the poll numbers to his eager colleagues. “She is qualified, of course, but many in the council do believe it is Asia’s turn.”

The United States, Britain and a few other council nations have said they would consider any qualified man or woman, regardless of the tradition that rotates the top jobs among the regions. But Russia and China have long threatened to veto a non-Asian candidate, a position that has plenty of support among member states.

“It’s too early to assess support,” said Japanese Ambassador Kenzo Oshima, adding, “We support an Asian candidate.”

Jackie Sanders, political counselor to the U.S. Mission, left the council yesterday without speaking to reporters. A U.S. mission spokesman said the true picture of candidates’ viability would emerge after the Monday afternoon balloting.

Mr. Ban, who was formally nominated by Seoul only a few months ago, has campaigned quietly and with dignity, continuing with his obligation as trade and foreign affairs minister while giving infrequent interviews. He also gave his country’s speech from the General Assembly podium during the annual debate that ended on Wednesday.

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