Mystery 'No' Vote Overhangs U.N. Race

The Associated Press
Saturday, September 30, 2006; 6:11 AM

UNITED NATIONS -- South Korea's foreign minister has become the only candidate with a good chance of winning the race to succeed U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but a mystery "no" vote has thrown his victory into question.

Ban Ki-Moon received 13 votes in favor, one against and one with no opinion from the 15-member council in an informal poll Thursday. That made him the only one of seven candidates to get the minimum nine votes of support.

In the corridors of the United Nations, speculation on who cast the vote discouraging Ban's candidacy has come to dominate conversation.

Was it one of the five veto-wielding permanent members _ the United States, Russia, China, Britain or France? That could mean trouble, because an uncompromising veto from one of the five could sink any candidate. Or was it one of the 10 elected council members without veto power, which would pose no problem?

Ban said he would try to win "overwhelming support" from U.N. members.

"I'm glad that I got a good evaluation from members of the Security Council," he told reporters in Seoul. "I think it reflects an assessment by Security Council member states of my vision for U.N. reforms and of my faith in the future of the United Nations."

A straw poll on Monday for the first time will differentiate the ballots of the permanent and non-permanent members, so candidates will know if they are supported or opposed by one or more of the five countries with veto power _ though not which ones.

The straw polls are not binding. The council's recommendation to replace Annan when he steps down on Dec. 31 must be approved by the 192-nation General Assembly.

In the past, council members have used their votes to lobby for top jobs in the U.N. administration, and insiders believe this is a likely reason for Ban's "no" vote and one country's switch from support to "no opinion."

For decades, a Briton headed the Department of Political Affairs. But after Mark Malloch Brown, a Briton, became Annan's chief of staff in January 2005, the secretary-general named the first African to the top political job.

Under a new secretary-general, Britain wants the job back, diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry told reporters Friday that "suggestions that the United Kingdom is at the heart of something here are way off. I suggest you go elsewhere."

Similarly, the diplomats said, France wants to make sure it holds on to the Department of Peacekeeping, which is headed by Frenchman Jean-Marie Guehenno, the diplomats said.

On Thursday, Ban slipped slightly from a poll earlier this month that gave him 14 votes in favor and one against. His closest competitor was U.N. Undersecretary-General Shashi Tharoor of India, who got eight favorable votes, three against and four undecided.

By Friday, the contest had claimed its first dropout: Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka, a former U.N. undersecretary-general for disarmament who got only three "yes" votes.

Even if Ban got a negative vote from a permanent member of the Security Council Monday, diplomats said his candidacy wouldn't be dead.

In the last vote 10 years ago, Kofi Annan was vetoed by the French _ but after a few days of talks, France agreed to support him and he got the job.

© 2006 The Associated Press