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4 Countries Win Seats on UN Security Council; 5th Goes to Runoff

FILE - The United Nations flag is seen at U.N. headquarters in New York City.
FILE - The United Nations flag is seen at U.N. headquarters in New York City.

Four countries were elected to two-year terms on the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday in the first major vote held at the world body amid the coronavirus pandemic.

India, Ireland, Mexico and Norway will join the council on January 1 for the rotating term. But a decision on who will occupy a seat representing Africa will go to a second round of voting Thursday, as neither of the contenders, Kenya and Djibouti, captured the necessary two-thirds majority.

The vote was held in a sparsely populated General Assembly Hall. In mid-March, the United Nations essentially shut down its New York headquarters as the coronavirus spread across the metropolis. The city began its very limited first phase of reopening June 8, but that does not include large gatherings like the hundreds of diplomats who would normally flock to the building to cast their votes.

At the assembly hall on Wednesday, life in a COVID-19 world was on full display. Diplomats wearing face masks came one by one to fill in their secret ballots, deposit them and leave. Instead of everyone gathering and casting votes simultaneously, the process took much of the day. There were no people socializing, no goodie bags from candidate countries and definitely no kisses on the cheek.

In the final months and weeks leading up to the vote, there were none of the parties and special events that candidate countries love to put on to raise their profiles and garner votes.

Council seats are allocated according to regional blocs. In the group known as “Western Europe and Others,” Canada, Ireland and Norway were contesting two available seats.

With a two-thirds majority of 128 votes needed, Ireland and Norway both squeaked by with 128 and 130 votes respectively. For a second consecutive time, Canada lost its bid for a seat. But it garnered 108 votes, putting it within respectable reach of that needed majority.

Ireland’s win means the European Union will hold three seats on the 15-nation council.

“The race between Canada, Ireland and Norway has felt a little surreal for all involved,” said Richard Gowan, U.N. director for the International Crisis Group. “All three are well-established friends of the United Nations, and they have sometimes struggled to distinguish themselves from one another. The irony is that all three states would happily vote for each other under any other circumstances.”

Mexico was the candidate from the Latin America and the Caribbean bloc, and India for Asia-Pacific. Both ran uncontested and won overwhelming majorities.

Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, welcomed his country’s 187 votes on Twitter, saying, “Great recognition to our country around the world. Congratulations!!!!”

Just a day before the vote, a clash between Indian and Chinese troops along a remote Himalayan border in Eastern Ladakh left 20 Indian soldiers dead.

“India may see its term in the council as an opportunity to push back against China, which has been insisting on council debates over New Delhi's behavior in Kashmir,” Gowan said. “After the tensions in Ladakh, Indian-Chinese relations in the council could be sparky.”

It was the race between East African nations Djibouti and Kenya that gave the day some unexpected drama. Kenya received 113 votes, Djibouti 78 – neither sufficient to achieve the two-thirds majority of 128. A second round of voting will take place Thursday morning.

The newly elected countries will replace exiting council members Belgium, Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa. They will join current nonpermanent members Estonia, Niger, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Vietnam, and permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.