Updated on 28 February 2016
Chapter 7: DECISIONS AND DOCUMENTS
Section 5: Decisions to recommend appointments of Secretaries-General
GA President announces that meetings with SG candidates will be held in April 2016
On 25 February 2016, General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft sent letters to all UN Member States, as well as to the six candidates nominated thus far for the post of Secretary-General, announcing his intention to begin holding informal dialogues with official candidates from 12 to 14 April 2016. Lykketoft expressed the “sincere hope that these informal dialogues will help ensure the appointment of the best possible candidate for the position of Secretary-General.”
Lykketoft added that following the envisaged dialogues, he would “continue to assess the need for providing additional opportunities for exchanges with candidates.” In this connection, he mentioned his intention “to invite all declared candidates to attend and observe the three High-Level Thematic Debates, which I will convene in the coming months, and which will focus on the panoply of challenges and opportunities facing the UN at 70, including the next Secretary-General, across the three pillars of the United Nations’ work.”
It will be recalled that the General Assembly, in its resolution 69/321 adopted on 11 September 2015, decided “to conduct informal dialogues or meetings with candidates for the position of Secretary-General, without any prejudice to any candidate who does not participate, thus contributing to the transparency and inclusivity of the process”.
In an Annex to his letter, the Assembly President provided an outline for the format of the informal dialogues. The outline included the following points:
• Candidates will be invited to provide a short, focused vision statement (up to 2000 words), to be circulated through the Office of the Assembly President, as received, ideally no later than one week in advance of the informal meeting. The statement could lay out the vision of the candidate on challenges and opportunities that the United Nations and the next Secretary-General may encounter, such as in the fields of peace and security, sustainable development, human rights, humanitarian response, and issues pertaining to the management of the Organization;
• A two-hour segment for each individual candidate chaired by the Assembly President;
• An opening statement by the candidate (10 minutes);
• Questions from Member States on a first-come, first-served basis, bearing in mind requests from groups;
• Member States are strongly encouraged to limit their questions and comments to a maximum of 2 minutes and to focus on specific questions in an interactive manner. The President will enforce this time limit, as appropriate;
• Candidates will be given the opportunity to respond to Member States’ interventions at regular intervals;
• Meetings will be open and webcast with interpretation in all official languages and will follow General Assembly seating protocol. A link to each webcast will be posted on the President’s webpage for future record; and
• One to two representatives from civil society will be given the floor, time permitting.
At the time the President’s letter was sent, there were six announced candidates:
1. Srgjan Kerim, candidacy submitted by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on
30 December 2015;
2. Vesna Pusić, candidacy submitted by Croatia on 14 January 2016;
3. Igor Lukšić, candidacy submitted by Montenegro on 15 January 2016;
4. Danilo Türk, candidacy submitted by Slovenia on 9 February 2016;
5. Irina Bokova, candidacy submitted by Bulgaria on 11 February 2016; and
6. Natalia Gherman, candidacy submitted by Moldova on 19 February 2016.
(Some days later, on 29 February, Portugal submitted the candidacy of António Guterres.)
In his letter, Lykketoft noted that additional meetings will be organized for any further candidates that may be nominated, and he encouraged Member States to present candidates in time to participate in the April dialogues. In a press conference held the day after the letter was sent, Lykketoft stated that “we also know that more [candidates] will be coming – in the next few weeks, probably two more.”
In his press conference, Lykketoft asserted that the dialogues, which will be held in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, are “an important step forward towards the transparency we have asked for in a lot of areas”. Moreover, Lykketoft expected “that it will be in the interest of whoever becomes Secretary-General in January  to have met with the membership of the United Nations through these informal dialogues”.
Noting that the Assembly dialogues would be held before any similar meetings by the Security Council with the candidates, Lykketoft told the press that the dialogues “could be a game-changing procedure if the membership in general gather around one candidate – [that] there’s a critical mass of Member States gathering around one candidate – then I think it will be difficult to see the Security Council coming up later with quite a different name.”
With regard to the role of civil society in the dialogues, after the Assembly President’s letter was sent, the website of the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) stated that “The Office of the PGA has requested UN-NGLS to facilitate a process with civil society to provide questions that can be asked to candidates” during the Assembly’s informal dialogues. The website added that UN-NGLS “will facilitate a civil society Committee to short-list 30 questions from those received,” to be submitted to the Assembly President. The President’s Office then “will choose some of the short-listed questions to be presented in person, shared via video or audio recordings, or verbally read-out by the President during the dialogues.” Within three days of the posting of the website’s call, dozens of questions for the candidates had been submitted by civil society via Twitter or email. In addition, during his press conference, Lykketoft expressed his expectation that some non-governmental organizations will arrange their own informal meetings with the candidates.
As for media access to the announced candidates, Lykketoft said during his press conference that “There will be an opportunity after the two-hour slot in the GA for a press stakeout with each and every candidate”, during which journalists will have the possibility of asking the candidates questions.
The Assembly President mentioned in his press conference that he had been in close contact with Presidents of the Security Council over the past months in order to inform them “on precisely what we are doing” in the General Assembly. In this context, he said that he expected that the Council members would be holding their own meetings with the announced candidates following the Assembly’s informal dialogue. However, as far as he knew, the Council had not yet decided on the format for their consultations with the candidates. As noted in another article on this website, at the Assembly meeting at which resolution 69/321 was adopted, the representative of the United Kingdom confirmed that his delegation intended to host an “Arria-formula” meeting with the candidates (A/69/PV.103).
As to the voting process in the Security Council, Lykketoft stated during his press conference that “I think in formal terms it’s very, very questionable that there is any kind of veto power on a procedural issue like appointing the Secretary-General, but in practice there has been this respect for unanimity between the Permanent Five.” In fact, whether the recommendation of candidates for Secretary-General by the Council to the Assembly is a substantive or a procedural question is a complex matter which is discussed in another article on this website.
With regard to the voting process in the General Assembly, Lykketoft said in his press conference that the General Assembly “can vote down every proposal” from the Security Council concerning the appointment of the Secretary-General “until they get one that they will accept”, but he did not think this would be appropriate. Rather, Lykketoft expressed the hope that the General Assembly and the Security Council “will find out the balance that gives us the best, the strongest, the most competent candidate”.