Today, the Security Council will hold its first major meeting on selecting the next Secretary General of the United Nations.

The Council will meet behind closed doors to take the first “straw poll” of the Secretary General candidates. This is technically an informal vote, but the outcome may very well portend who will succeed Ban Ki Moon for a five year term at the helm of the United Nations.

Here’s how the straw poll works

Each of the 15 members of the Security Council will indicate through secret ballot whether they “encourage,” “discourage” or have “no opinion” about the candidate. The ballots are theoretically anonymous, but they are also color coded to indicate the ballots of the veto-wielding permanent five members of the Security Council. If a candidate receives a “discourage” vote from a P-5 member it probably means their candidacy is sunk.  What is unclear is at what point color coded ballots will be introduced into this process. In previous years, the first few rounds of straw polling did not differentiate between permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council. This is considered somewhat more democratic and it is assumed that any candidate with a high number of “discourage” votes would drop out and help winnow the field.

Back in 2006 the color coded ballots were introduced after four rounds of voting and after after the first color coded ballot, only Ban Ki Moon received no “discourage” votes from the P-5.  That was in October. And there is some concern that the selection process could take that long this time around, particularly since we are almost in August, when many diplomats go on vacation.

Still, after today,  the field of 12 could be winnowed down. Also, by the end of the day we could get a more firm sense of whether or not Russia intends to only consider candidates from Easter Europe. ( According to an informal system of regional rotation, this is supposed to be Eastern Europe’s “turn” for the Secretary General post.) Though the color coded ballots may not be used at this time, Russia could very well make its intentions known in other ways. This could rule out a number of high profile candidates from outside of Eastern Europe, including Helen Clark of New Zealand, Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica, Susanna Malcorra of Argentina and Antonio Guterres of Portugal.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that none of this process and procedure is set in stone. It’s all somewhat informal and based on precedent, not statute. It’s unlikely, but at any time if the Security Council wants to change the rules of the game, they can.

But will we know the results? Technically, the ballots are supposed to secret. But the UN is leaky like a sieve so I would imagine the public will get a handle on the outcome in the near future.

While you wait, listen to my just-published podcast conversation with Helen Clark, one of the leading contenders to be the next UN Secretary General.

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