Former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres has pulled ahead in the race to be the UN's next secretary general, following a secret vote. The results come amidst a push for the next world body leader to be a woman.
The first informal poll on Thursday to pick the United Nation's next leader has placed Portugal's ex-prime minister, Antonio Guterres, at the top of the pack, followed closely by Slovenia's former president, Danilo Turk, said diplomats.
The secret vote, conducted by 15 ambassadors in the UN Security Council, rated candidates with ballots marked "encourage," "discourage" or "no opinion."
Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Guterres took home a top score of 12 "encourage" votes with three "no opinion."
Guterras was Portugal's prime minister from 1995 - 2002 and served as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees until the end of last year. The 67-year-old is fluent in Portuguese, English, Spanish and French.
Slovenia's Turk came in at a close second with 11 encouragements, and said on Twitter that he was "grateful for attention, understanding and encouragement of UN member states."
There was a three-way tie for third place between UNESCO chief Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, Macedonia's former foreign minister, Srgjan Kerim, and Vuk Jeremic, Seribia's ex-foreign minister.
The Security Council voting took place on Thursday after the first ever public hearings to screen candidates in April. The 193-member UN General Assembly sought to do away with some of the secrecy which usually surrounds the election of the UN chief for the past 70 years.
Calls for female leader
UN Security Council members have been facing a push by over a quarter of the 193-member UN General Assembly to pick the first female secretary general. Half the candidates currently running are women.
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said "it is high time for a woman" but added that there were "very, very strong men" in the race. He added that Britain would not use its veto to block a man from taking the job.
They are also under pressure to give preference to a candidate from eastern Europe, the only region which has yet to hold the top post.
The Security Council will continue to hold closed-door, informal ballots until the members can reach a consensus on which candidate to recommend. The General Assembly will vote on the selected candidate later this year.
The newly elected leader will succeed current South Korean Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on January 1 next year.
rs/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)