An assessment of the race for the position of Director General

Geographic Considerations
It is generally believed that the position of Director General of UNESCO should not be monopolized by any one nation, or indeed by any region. Most previous Directors General have been from Western Europe or the United States, with one Asian, one Latin American and one African. There is also an unwritten agreement that the top positions within the United Nations system should be distributed among many nations.

It should be noted that UNESCO divides member nations into five groups, each of which chooses a specified number of members of the Executive Board. (Click here to see a report with the current members by group.) Active nominees according to this grouping are:
  • Group 1: one nominee (Benita FERRERO-WALDNER, Austria; 6 previous Directors General),
  • Group 2: three nominees (Irina Gueorguieva BOKOVA. Bulgaria; Ina MARČIULIONYTĖ, Lithuania and Alexander Vladimirovich YAKOVENKO, the Russian Federationl; no previous Directors General)
  • Group 3: one nominee (Ivonne JUEZ de A. BAKI, Ecuador: one previous Director General)
  • Group 4: no nominees (the current Director General)
  • Gruop 5: three nominees (Nouréini TIDJANI-SERPOS, Benin; Farouk HOSNY. Egypt and Sospeter Mwijarubi MUHONGO , Tanzania; one previous Director General)
The voting for Director General is by secret ballot on the basis of one vote per member nation. Developing nations hold the vast majority of the votes. It was thought early in the process of selection that a citizen of an Arab or Islamic nation might have an advantage in this UNESCO election.

The final decision in fact depends on the qualities of the individual candidates and the support that the sponsoring nations are willing to give each candidate.

The Candidates
Nine candidates were formally nominated prior to the deadline. Four are women, and there has never been a woman Director General of UNESCO. Four were from Europe, two from Sub-Saharan Africa, two from North Africa, and one from Latin America.

A number of individuals from Arab nations were reported to be seeking nomination and support for their candidacy, but at last Farouk Hosny was nominated. Mohammed Bedjaoui of Algeria was nominated by Cambodia, but (reportedly under heavy pressure) has withdrawn his candidacy.

Two Brazilians , UNESCO Deputy Director General Marcio Barbosa and Brazilian Senator Cristovam Buarque were considered for nomination by Brazil, but finally neither was nominated, reportedly due to a decision to support the Egyptian candidate.

The Permanent Representatives of Bulgaria (Irina Bokova) and Lithuania (Ina Marctulionyte) were nominated as had been expected, and have been actively campaigning for the position. Assistant Director General for African Programs, Nouréini Tidjani-Serpos was the only member of the Secretariate to receive a formal nomination, that of his country Benin.

There were four nominations that had not been widely expected, Benita Ferrero-Waldner (an Austrian, and the Commissioner for External Relations of the EC), Alexander Vladimirovich Yajivenko (the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation), Ivonne Baki (an Ecuadorian, and the President of the Andean Parliament), and Sospeter Muhongo (a Tanzanian, and Regional Director for Africa of the International Council for Science).

The Campaigns
The only votes that count are those of the representatives of the member states in the governing bodies, and these are usually determined by instructions from their governments. Therefore perhaps the most important aspect of campaigning is done in negotiations between governments, and those negotiations are normally done in secret. In this election, however, there have been a number of news stories that open the process somewhat. Thus we can read the agendas of bi-national diplomatic discussions that include requests for support of a national candidate among other topics. The negotiations between the Egyptian government and those of Israel and France have been the subject of speculation in the press. Russia came up with a unique campaign tactic, offering publicly to increase its contribution to UNESCO from $12 million to $20 million per year if its candidate is chosen.

Candidates themselves have been actively seeking the office by a variety of means. Several attended major meetings supported by UNESCO (World Conference on Higher Education, meeting of the World Heritage Committee). Hospitality suites have been set up in these fora in which candidates can meet permanent representatives to UNESCO from other nations. Several have travelled to meet government officials in key nations. Most have established websites and given interviews with the press discussing their candidacy. Vision statements from most of the candidates have been made available to the public.

There has been quite a bit of press coverage of the election. When Koichiro Matsuura was elected the first time, the Internet was much less developed than it is today. As a result, this year there is much more opportunity for private citizens to be informed about the election and even to express support or opposition to candidates.

The candidacy of Farouk Hosny has proven to be especially controversial, raising vocal opposition from a number of groups, and serious lobbying against his election by a number of member states, as well as strong support from his partisans.. His early lead in the race is reported to have deteriorated. However, he appears to have continued strong support from his government. The government of Israel had at one time opposed his candidacy, but withdrew that opposition. The government of France was at one time announced to be in support of Hosny, but more recently announced that it was not supporting a specific candidate.

Rumors suggest that:
  • the two African candidates have weakened support for the Egyptian candidate among African nations;
  • the support from the Islamic nations for the Egyptian candidate is not as solid as had once been believed.
  • the European nations may be seeking a process by which they can all support a single European candidate.
The Selection Process
The 58 members of the Executive Board will have the opportunity to review the qualification statements for the candidates submitted by their governments, to read the vision statements they themselves have submitted (probably often with the help of their government's UNESCO representatives), and to interview the candidates.

In past elections of new Directors General, the Executive Board did not give a majority to a candidate on the first round of voting, and with eight active candidates it seems quite possible that this time there will be more than one round of voting as well. Thus the process by which members of the Executive Board switch their support from one to another candidate may be important.

The recommendation of the Executive Board is considered likely to be accepted by the General Conference, and Chairman Yai of the Executive Board is likely to play an important role in managing the election process. It is difficult for an outsider to predict in advance which candidate will eventually emerge as the victor. The nomination of a candidate for Director General of UNESCO is one of 62 items on the crowded agenda of this meeting (September 7 - 23, 2009) of the Executive Board.

A good source for news and views on UNESCO and this election is the UNESCO's Friends Group on LinkedIN.

1 comment:

  1. I heard today that Farouk Hosny has 20 to 22 votes on the first ballot of the Executive Board. Since the Board has 58 members, if the report is correct, the selection of candidate by the Board will go into at least a second round of voting.