United Nations Secretary-General, elect by popular vote
Should the Secretary-General of the United Nations be elected through the direct vote of the citizens of member states?
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Unencumbered by the current selection process, more progressive candidates would be able to bring th...
Unencumbered by the current selection process, more progressive candidates would be able to bring their ideas directly to the public, and raise the level of debate about the role and the future of the UN. This would be very valuable in encouraging citizens everywhere to think internationally, engaging with global problems and becoming more aware of our shared humanity.
A popular election would politicise the role of the Secretary-General. The role requires complete neutrality and equidistance between the competing positions of member states. However, in an election, candidates would have to pick sides on contentious issues such as Israel-Palestine or India-Pakistan. Furthermore, an anti-Semitic position, for example, might actually win more votes than a moderate one.
Given the evolution in the role of the Secretary-General, he needs skills beyond those required of a...
Given the evolution in the role of the Secretary-General, he needs skills beyond those required of a chief administrator and more closely resembling those of a statesman. Like in the case of heads of state, having to compete in a contest for the popular vote would require candidates to demonstrate their competence for the job and their vision for the future of the organization. These would then become the primary considerations in the popular decision, not their pliability to the interests of the world’s richest nations.
To assume that a ‘world electorate’ would be mature enough to select the most qualified, most competent candidate would be naïve. The majority of the world’s citizens do not live in strong democratic societies. According to The Economist’s Democracy Index only 14% of the world’s population live in ‘full democracies’. The rest have limited or no meaningful experience with the democratic, political, and civic culture necessary for free and fair elections to produce worthy victors. As we’ve seen after the fall of communism, societies experimenting with democratic elections for the first time often elect either extreme populists or populist extremists.
Most Secretaries-General are compromise-candidates from middle powers and with little prior fame. H...
Most Secretaries-General are compromise-candidates from middle powers and with little prior fame. High-profile candidates, like Bill Clinton, are often touted for the job, but are almost always rejected as unpalatable to some of the permanent member states. For instance, figures like Charles De Gaulle or Dwight Eisenhower were considered for the first Secretary-General position, but were rejected in favour of the uncontroversial Norwegian, Trygve Lie. Thus excellent leaders and statesmen are outright excluded from the selection process because the permanent five have no incentive to nominate a strong, forceful figure for the role. Popular election would reverse this bias, as only well-known international heavy-weight figures would be able to gain sufficient votes from citizens all over the world.
Simply because Secretaries-General are elected through a compromise process does not mean that they will not perform well on the job or that they will be lackeys of the permanent members. For example, Kofi Annan became a powerful and charismatic leader during his time in office. In spite of the US having supported his nomination, he was often critical of its foreign policy and human rights record in the war against terror. Another Secretary- General, Dag Hammarskjöld, developed the UN Emergency Force, deployed during the 1956 Suez Crisis in which two of the permanent five members were implicated. The deployment of troops was done with no authorisation from the Security Council and has since significantly shaped the protocol on UN peacekeeping missions.\
Also, while well-known former statesmen might have the necessary qualities to lead their countries, when vested with considerable powers, they might not thrive in an environment where negotiation, compromise and the maintenance of a delicate balance between the interests of various states are vital.\
The role of the Secretary-General has greatly evolved from the one mapped out in the Charter. He ha...
The role of the Secretary-General has greatly evolved from the one mapped out in the Charter. He has come to act not just as chief administrator, but also as an advocate, as a mediator, and a spokesperson, upholding and promoting the principles of the United Nations. Often, these principles and the organization’s objectives are contrary to the interests of some or all of the permanent members of the Security Council - e.g. energetically advancing a human rights agenda, pressuring rich nations into pledging more money toward aid, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or promoting nuclear disarmament. The vetting process ensures that only candidates who are broadly sympathetic to the interests of the permanent five get the nomination. Therefore no progressive candidate is ever selected. A proper global election would allow the best candidate to win office, even if members of the P5 disagree with them.
The UN is a cooperative, largely non-hierarchical body whose budget and military force come directly from its member states. In order to achieve results, the willing cooperation of states is paramount. The power of the Secretary-General to implement change comes from his special relationship with the Security Council. The SC is the only body within the UN which can actually adopt binding resolutions, and these are also subject to the veto of any of the permanent members of the SC. If the Secretary-General has an antagonistic relationship with the SC, that could result in complete stalemate over any proposal he might bring to the Council’s attention. Even in matters not directly related to security and therefore not susceptible to a veto, like the Millennium Goals, the backing of these five nations will vastly improve any initiative’s chance of success. It is therefore very important that the SG is someone who all permanent members feel comfortable working with, not someone whom they perceive as an untrustworthy antagonist. The veto process strengthens that bond.
Gender and geographic diversity would improve among candidates. Out of eight Secretaries-General so...
Gender and geographic diversity would improve among candidates. Out of eight Secretaries-General so far, a woman has yet to lead the organisation. Furthermore, women candidates are rarely even considered. Getting rid of the cumbersome veto process might encourage more women to come forward. Currently, the status quo tends to perpetuate itself. The representatives who end up making the decisions on a candidates viability are usually men, from wealthy and privileged backgrounds. By bringing more people into the decision-making process, the door is open to more types of people.
Geographic diversity is already ensured by the system of regional rotation in the selection of candidates. As for gender diversity, women find it hard to get elected even in countries which have strong traditions in protecting and promoting women’s rights. Those liberal countries represent a small minority of UN member states and of world population. Confronted with a ‘world electorate’, a woman’s chances of getting elected would be slim to none.
A popular contest would improve transparency of selection and accountability. It would democratize ...
A popular contest would improve transparency of selection and accountability. It would democratize the role. A Secretary-General elected in this manner would have increased legitimacy and much more power in negotiating with member states, as the direct representative of the peoples of the world. He would have more authority in demanding, for example, that wealthy nations pay the promised contributions toward the Millennium Goals, as many of them have not.
A popular contest would greatly distort both the nature of the office of the Secretary-General and that of the UN. The organization and the Secretary- General are meant to facilitate dialogue and cooperation between member states, not to compete with them as a separate super-state with its own elected ‘president’. Also, the US and UK, for example, might not feel too compelled to recognize the authority of a Secretary-General elected by a majority of Asian voters and for whom few of their own citizens voted.
While not all countries might have the democratic traditions necessary to hold fair and free electio...
While not all countries might have the democratic traditions necessary to hold fair and free elections, this process might actually help them along that path. It would be an exercise in democracy. A possible incentive to run fair, inclusive ballots would be to exclude member states who did not guarantee and implement such democratic standards from the process entirely. Such international shaming would make even the most autocratic and corrupt regime think twice.
In countries which lack democratic culture and electoral tradition, elections are often accompanied by violence, fraud and can have a destabilising effect. The amount of manpower and funds necessary to ensure peaceful, fair elections would be staggering. The budget of the UN comes from its members who would be at best very reluctant to foot the bill. \
Also, it would be almost impossible to ensure the right to vote of all citizens of member states. Aside from the obvious logistical hurdles in holding an election of such magnitude, many minorities are oppressed in the countries they live in. How would one guarantee the vote of women in Saudi Arabia, the Tamil in Sri Lanka or the Karen in Burma? The people who would most need a voice to represent them might be deprived of casting their vote toward electing one.
Popular elections would get people more interested and involved in the work and the mission of the U...
Popular elections would get people more interested and involved in the work and the mission of the UN. It gives individual citizens a personal stake in the running of the organization. When people feel that they have a say in the way a body is run - even if they don't exercise that say - they feel it's more accountable to them. That would bolster its support and legitimacy at the grass root level. Legitimacy is especially important because the U.N. very seldom takes action on its own. It needs to persuade actors to act on its behalf. The ability to persuade is much enhanced by having widespread support.
In popular elections all over the world turnout is low and the electorate is generally apathetic. This problem is only magnified in the case of elections for transnational bodies like the E.U. Those who do care tend to be ill-informed. This would be just another meaningless vote that people would skip or, if they voted, would squander in an ignorant manner.
What do you think?