UNITED NATIONS —
Portugal's former Prime Minister Antonio Guterres got another step closer to becoming the next U.N. secretary-general, holding on to his lead in an informal vote of Security Council decision makers.
Security Council diplomats held a third round of "straw polls" — informal ballots — Monday. Diplomats with knowledge of the results said Guterres topped the pack of 10 contenders with 11 votes "encouraging" his candidacy, three "discouraging" it and one expressing "no opinion."
Diplomats from many countries have expressed support for Guterres' candidacy, citing his charisma as well as his experience at the helm of the U.N. refugee agency for a decade and as Portugal's leader from 1995-2002.
While the 67-year-old Guterres seems to have secured solid and consistent support among a majority of council members, it remains to be seen if he can escape a veto in a future round from one of the five permanent council members.
Three eastern European candidates captured second place and tied for third. Slovakia's Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak surged to second with nine “encouraging” votes, five “discouraging” and one “no opinion.” Third place was a tie between UNESCO chief Bulgarian Irina Bokova and Serbia's former Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic.
Argentina's Susana Malcorra, Macedonia's Srgjan Kerim and New Zealand's Helen Clark rounded out the middle of the pack.
The council is likely to hold at least two more rounds of informal voting before making a final decision. In the interim, some candidates may withdraw their bids after repeated poor showings.
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters prior to the vote that it is time to "winnow down the field." He said the winning candidate requires a minimum of nine positive votes and no vetoes.
"And that is a bar which is quite a long way away from the current standing of the vast majority of candidates," he said.
All ballots have been identical so far, but in an upcoming round, the five permanent Security Council members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — will switch to different colored papers. The five hold veto power over candidacies and a "discourage" vote from them could crush a contender's chances.
No date has been announced for the next round.
In 2006, Ban Ki-moon was selected U.N. chief after four straw polls.
The winner will take over Jan. 1, 2017.