New Zealand’s former prime minister Helen Clark on Monday entered the race to be the next UN secretary-general, touting her decades of leadership as she aims to become the first woman to head the world body.
The search for a successor to Ban Ki-moon comes at a time of high anxiety in global affairs as the United Nations grapples with the biggest refugee crisis since World War II and raging conflicts in the Middle East and Africa.
“I am putting myself forward based on proven leadership experience over close to three decades, both in my own country and here at the United Nations,” Clark told AFP in an interview, ending months of speculation.
“I do think I have the experience and the attributes to do this job.”
Currently the UN’s highest-ranking woman, Clark heads its largest agency, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), a post she has held for the past seven years, overseeing the world body’s vast development agenda.
New Zealand formally put forward Clark, one of the most experienced women in global politics, as its candidate at a press conference in Wellington.
“Having served as the prime minister of New Zealand for nine years and held one of the top jobs in the United Nations for the past seven, Helen Clark has the right mix of skills and experience for the job,” Prime Minister John Key said.
“There are major global challenges facing the world today and the United Nations needs a proven leader who can be pragmatic and effective.
“Coming from New Zealand, Helen Clark is well placed to bridge divisions and get results. She is the best person for the job.”
– ‘Very challenging outlook’ –
The 66-year-old former academic is among New Zealand’s longest-serving prime ministers, having headed the government for three successive terms from 1999 to 2008.
Next week, the UN General Assembly will hold public hearings for the candidates for the first time in the United Nations’ 70-year history, with the race still wide open months before a vote.
Other than Clark, seven candidates including three women are vying for the top job. The candidates include UNESCO chief Irina Bokova of Bulgaria and the former High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, of Portugal.
Clark would become the first woman to lead the United Nations, after eight men in the top job — although she downplayed her gender as a factor in her candidacy.
“I’m not putting myself forward because I’m a woman. I’m putting myself forward because I think I’m the best person for the job,” she said.
“I happen to be a woman with a strong track record.”
“I’ve given it a lot of thought,” Clark said of her candidacy. “I think we face a very, very challenging world outlook.”
– New approaches –
The United Nations has come under heavy fire over its failure to reform, with critics arguing it is ill-adapted to respond to evolving global crises.
Clark pointed to those shortcomings during the interview, saying she was “extremely keen” to steer the world body towards a more effective approach to addressing what she termed a “different kind of conflict.”
Today’s warfare is about “civil wars, disparate non-state actors. It’s violent extremism. This requires new approaches,” she said.
Turning to the UN bureaucracy, Clark called for reform to turn the world body — with its 40,000-plus employees and annual budget of over $8 billion — into a more “pro-active organization.”
“We can be a clunky, old-fashioned-style administration,” she acknowledged.
“I’m known for being a pragmatic, task-focused and results-oriented person.”
UN diplomats see Clark as a prominent candidate for the top post, but it remains unclear how much support she will be able to garner from the permanent Security Council members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
Russia has said that the next secretary-general should come from eastern Europe, the only region that has yet to be represented in the top job.
Britain has said it would back a woman to be the world’s top diplomat.
After public hearings are held in the General Assembly beginning next week, the Security Council is expected to select the winning candidate in July, who would then be endorsed by the assembly.
The successful candidate will begin work on January 1, 2017.