On 7 June, the General Assembly convened for a second round of 'informal dialogues' with candidates to be the next Secretary-General. Two newly declared candidates participated in the dialogues: Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia) and Susana Malcorra (Argentina).
Each candidate began with introductory statements, in which they described their ‘vision’ for the role of Secretary-General and outlined the major agenda areas and priorities they would champion if appointed. Lajčák focused his remarks on conflict prevention and resolution, emphasizing the value of dialogue and cooperation. Malcorra underscored the “courage of conviction” needed to serve as Secretary-General, and called for an “issues-based” approach to leadership.
Lajčák - Highlights
Throughout the hearing, Lajčák's responses often touched upon the way he would approach the role of UN Secretary-General. For instance, when asked about how he would provide leadership in conflict prevention, Lajčák stated that he would like to see a "more robust" use of the Secretary-General's “good offices” in the future. At the same time, he felt there were clear limitations to the role. Lajčák stated that Member States make the rules for the Secretary-General, and emphasized the need for the Secretary-General to consult with Member States on decisions. In short: "I can only be the Secretary-General you want me to be.”
The question of how Lajčák would appoint senior officials as Secretary-General was raised several times, particularly with regard to the “monopolies” held by some countries over certain key posts. Lajčák felt that all Member States should feel represented at the UN, but did not address these “monopolies” or the politics behind them.
Lajčák was asked several questions about gender representation, both in the appointment of senior officials and elsewhere in the UN system. He expressed support for gender balance, but observed that “if we want to see more women, we need to propose more women" for high level posts. He also highlighted the important role women could play in post-conflict reconciliation, citing their “special abilities”. If appointed, Lajčák promised to appoint a woman from the Global South as Deputy-Secretary-General.
As an Eastern European candidate, Lajčák was also asked about his views on regional rotation, and particularly on whether this was a credible way to select the UN Secretary-General. Lajčák replied that his participation in the informal dialogues as a candidate was proof that he believed in this system.
Several questions were posed regarding the transparency and inclusiveness of the UN system. As an example of his commitment to transparency, Lajčák cited his experience as High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, during which he set up a public website and answered questions from the public online. On engagement with civil society, Lajčák stated that "there must be a dialogue" between civil society and the UN. In particular, he cited civil society's important role in the humanitarian field.
When asked about specific UN reform proposals, Lajčák generally deferred to Member States. For instance, Lajčák chose not to comment on the merits of the single term proposal, stating that it was up to Member States to establish the Secretary-General’s terms of appointment. However, he did “request” that Member States allow the Secretary-General greater “flexibility” in managing the Secretariat.
Malcorra – Highlights
In her remarks, Malcorra described at length how she would approach her role as UN Secretary-General. She emphasized that effective management is crucial in order to implement policies, and noted that this requires the Secretary-General to take on both political and managerial roles. She also observed that the Secretary-General could approach Member States individually, rather than resorting to the authority, granted by Article 99, to bring issues to the attention of the Security Council. Overall, her view was that the Secretary-General “is not the President of the world.” Rather, his or her role should be to facilitate the processes through which Member States come to decisions.
One civil society representative posed a question about Malcorra’s relationship to power: was there ever a time Malcorra had stood up to authority in defense of an oppressed group? In response, Malcorra noted that she had been obligated to run from the police as a University student. However, she emphasized that it was equally important to be able to “live with power.”
Malcorra highlighted the importance of gender balance, arguing that this has a major impact on the culture of an organization. She believed that concerns about the “opaque” appointment processes for senior UN officials stemmed from the lack of gender balance, and suggested that this perception would disappear once better balance was achieved. She did not address the issue of the “monopolies” over key Secretariat posts held by certain countries.
On the question of regional representation, Malcorra was asked directly whether she would appoint an African to her senior management team. She felt that it was not appropriate to discuss specific appointments at that time, stating that to do so “would start a conversation I'm not ready to have yet." Malcorra was also asked for her views on the role of regional rotation in the selection of the Secretary-General. She replied that Latin America respects this principle as a part of the selection process. However, once candidates were proposed from outside the Eastern European group, her region felt it was only fair that they also make their case for the post.
Several questions were posed about the UN itself, particularly with regard to its transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness. Malcorra thanked representatives of civil society for attending the session, and stated that the UN must work with international, regional, and local partners. Notably, Malcorra cited her experience in the private sector, as well as her previous work at the UN, as one of her qualifications for the post.
On the issue of ensuring accountability at the UN, one member of the press asked Malcorra for her views on the decision by Anders Kompass to leave the UN. Kompass is a former UN official credited with bringing allegations of sexual abuse by French peacekeepers to the attention of the French government. In response, Malcorra said that she was sad to see Kompass leave, but criticized his decision to share a report on the allegations without redacting the names of the victims. In her view, this put the victims in danger.
Malcorra was also asked for her views on specific UN reform proposals. Like Lajčák, Malcorra emphasized that it was up to Member States to establish the length of the Secretary-General’s term. In her own view, a seven year term would be “fine”; however, she noted that so far Member States had not agreed to this proposal.
For more detail about the candidates' remarks, see our commentary on the informal dialogues.
Click here for our commentary from Lajčák's hearing.
Click here for our commentary from Malcorra's hearing.