[the race for secretary-general]

Yesterday the Security Council held an informal straw poll to see where they stand on the various declared candidates for UN Secretary-General — Kofi Annan’s term ends on December 31 of this year — and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon of South Korea got the most endorsements.

To understand what this means, it might be helpful to back up and explain how the Secretary-General is chosen. According to Article 97 of Chapter XV of the UN Charter, “The Secretary-General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.” On the surface, this makes it look like the power resides with the General Assembly, but in reality the Security Council recommends just one candidate, which the General Assembly then approves or not. So it’s the Security Council’s views that matter most.

In the secret-ballot straw poll, each Security Council member could check “encourage,” “discourage” or “no opinion” next to the name of each declared candidate. (The declared candidates are Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, former Under-Secretary-General Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka, and Indian novelist and UN Department of Public Information head Shashi Tharoor.) Minister Ban received 12 “encourage” votes, one “discourage,” and two “no opinions.” Tharoor came in a close second.

So who’s the “discourage,” eh? If I had to guess, I would say Japan, whose attempts to join the Security Council as a permanent member South Korea has vigorously resisted. But who knows?