The United Nations Security Council officially recommended the re-election of António Guterres as Secretary General on Tuesday and promised the Portuguese statesman a second term until 2027.
The recommendation, which in a few weeks was solemnly approved by the 193-strong general assembly, put an end to any hope among the seven little-known candidates who were aspiring to the job, including two women. The office of Secretary General has been held by a man since the United Nations was founded in 1945.
“I think he is an excellent Secretary General,” said Estonian Ambassador Sven Jurgenson, President of the Security Council in June, to reporters at United Nations Headquarters after the decision. “He has proven himself worthy of the post.”
Mr Guterres, 72, was the only officially recognized candidate for the 2022-2027 term this year, despite a more competitive and transparent system under the changes to the selection process first introduced in the 2016 general secretary elections.
Activist groups hoping to see a woman selected said ahead of the Security Council’s recommendation that Mr Guterres had a built-in benefit as an incumbent.
“This has always been a race of one, and there was never a real chance there would be a challenger,” said Lyric Thompson, senior director of policy and advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women, a Washington-based group that did Reviews assessed the performance of the Secretary General. (For 2020 Mr. Guterres received a “B”, his highest score to date, compared to a C-plus in 2017.)
No other candidate received approval from a member state of the United Nations, which was considered a requirement for serious examination. As a further sign of support for Mr. Guterres, none of the five permanent members of the 15-member council – Great Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – publicly questioned a second term for him.
Mr Guterres, a former Prime Minister of Portugal who headed the United Nations Refugee Agency for 10 years, triumphed in 2016 from a field of 13 official candidates, including seven women. He took office the same year as former President Donald J. Trump, who was known for his disdain for the United Nations and the multilateral diplomacy it embodied.
The secretary-general was widely seen as diplomatically adept at avoiding confrontations that could upset Trump, the leader of the United Nations host country and the organization’s largest single donor.
Diplomats also credited Mr. Guterres for steering the United Nations through the global coronavirus pandemic, which Mr. Guterres identified as the organization’s greatest challenge since its inception.
But Mr Guterres has also been criticized by human rights groups and others for unwillingness to publicly punish governments that abuse human rights or cover up such behavior.
And while activists like Ms. Thompson’s group praised Mr. Guterres for using his bullying pulpit to promote gender equality, he has been accused of failing to keep his vows to eradicate sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse within the vast United Nations bureaucracy.
Perhaps the most notable change in this year’s secretary-general selection has been the emergence of candidates with little or no diplomatic experience who promised transformative changes at the United Nations.
One of the challengers, Arora Akanksha, a 34-year-old tax auditor for the organization, caught some attention because she was the youngest aspirant and bluntly criticized what she viewed as a failing and sclerotic hierarchy.
An online petition for Ms. Arora’s candidacy, using her last name first, had received more than 6,300 signatures as of Tuesday, but it did not receive any official support from any country, including Canada, where she is a citizen, or from India, her Country of birth.
Ms Arora, well aware of the odds against her candidacy, said in response to Mr Guterres’ message that her views on the organization had not changed. “The world needs and deserves a new UN,” she said. “We cannot expect the same past leadership to bring about change.”
Another female candidate, Rosalía Arteaga, 64, who briefly served as Ecuador’s president in 1997, took part in the race, which was sponsored by a London-based group called the Forward Campaign. But Ms. Arteaga has not secured the support of any member states either.
The process of selecting a Secretary-General is far more public today than it has been in United Nations history, when it was kept secret and reserved exclusively for permanent members of the Security Council. In the early years, they discussed and decided privately about candidates who didn’t even know they were eligible.
In 1953, for example, they secretly elected Dag Hammarskjold, a Swedish diplomat who found out about it in a surprising phone call that he originally thought was a prank.