UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations Security Council reached a surprisingly swift consensus Wednesday on its choice for the next secretary general of the United Nations: António Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal.
Mr. Guterres, 67, who ran the United Nations refugee agency for 10 years, had been the clear front-runner for the last several months. That a deeply divided Security Council rallied around him was a clear signal that Russia and the West saw him as someone they could work with.
Thirteen candidates, including a record seven women, had vied for the job; two had dropped out.
“We have a clear favorite, and his name is António Guterres,” said Vitaly I. Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, who is presiding over the Security Council this month.
Mr. Churkin made the announcement outside the Council’s chamber on Wednesday, flanked by his American counterpart, Samantha Power, in an unusual display of cooperation. The envoys of all the other members of the Council were also there, looking as if they, too, were surprised by their unity.
“In the end, there was a candidate whose experience, vision and versatility across a range of areas proved compelling, and it was remarkably uncontentious, uncontroversial,” Ms. Power said. “And I think it speaks to the fact that each of us represents our nation and each of us know how fundamentally important this position is in terms of the welfare of our own citizens.
“Every day we go into Security Council, we aspire for the kind of unity we saw today,” she added. “And on a crisis with carnage as horrific as that in Syria, the urgency of achieving that unity is no secret to anyone. And it’s not something we’ve achieved up to this point.”
Mr. Guterres will face a formal Council vote on Thursday morning and will then have his name submitted to the 193-member General Assembly for approval, which will most likely happen next week. If elected, he will succeed the current secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, whose second five-year term expires at the end of this year. The United Nations is faltering in carrying out its chief mandate, to stop the scourge of war, and is confronting a widening rift between Russia and the West.
Mr. Guterres was in Portugal when the announcement was made. The Portuguese mission to the United Nations said he would comment publicly only after Thursday’s formal vote.
The choice of Mr. Guterres dashed the hopes of many diplomats and civil-society activists that the United Nations would be led by a woman for the first time in its 71-year history.
One of the women contending for the job, Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica, said on Twitter that the results were bittersweet: “Bitter: not a woman. Sweet: by far the best man in the race. Congrats Antonio Guterres!”
Mr. Guterres has promised gender parity in senior posts within the organization, but beyond that, what he will do to advance the rights of women through the work of the United Nations remains to be seen.
Antonia Kirkland, program manager for Equality Now, an advocacy group, said that while it was “disappointing” that a man would run the body again, “we are at least hopeful that he will continue the feminist agenda, including, first of all, ensuring gender parity among his staff at the Secretariat, and also prioritizing violence and discrimination against women as a pivotal issue.”
Trained as a theoretical physicist, Mr. Guterres is a veteran politician and a member of his country’s Socialist Party. His first major diplomatic test will be to rally Russia and whoever wins the presidency in the United States to address the carnage in Syria. He will also face a range of thorny conflicts elsewhere, from South Sudan to Yemen, and nuclear brinkmanship in North Korea. He will have to repair the United Nations’ reputation for peacekeeping, sullied by repeated accusations of sexual abuse, and show that the secretary general’s office can stand up to political pressure from rich and powerful countries.
Michael W. Doyle, a former United Nations official who is now a Columbia University professor, said that as the high commissioner for refugees, Mr. Guterres had demonstrated both charisma and an ability to maneuver. “In the agency, he was known as someone who could sit down and hammer out agreements under difficult circumstances,” he said. “Moscow has to understand that.”
Mr. Guterres’s first order of business will be to fill plum posts, and there, he is likely to face bare-knuckles lobbying by the world powers. Russia had insisted that it was an Eastern European’s turn to be secretary general, so it remains to be seen how much it will push for its favored diplomats for key positions, including deputy secretary general and head of the United Nations’ political affairs division.
The way the Council selects the world’s top civil servant has long been opaque, though frustration on the part of many countries and a campaign by civil-society groups have allowed a bit of sunlight into the process. This year, for the first time, candidates faced hearings with members of the Security Council. Most of them took part in public debates and took questions from the news media.
The Council had taken five informal polls over the last few months, but there was no way to distinguish how the five veto-wielding permanent members had voted. On Wednesday, for the first time, the permanent five — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — voted on red ballots, and the others on white ballots. This was designed to show which candidates might face a veto. When the counting was finished, it was clear that Mr. Guterres would not.
This article was written by Somini Sengupta and first published in the New York Times. Find the article here