You are here: FAQs on the Secretary-General selection process

How do the Security Council straw polls work?

Security Council straw polls are secret, informal votes where members of the Council indicate whether they “encourage,” “discourage,” or have “no opinion” about each of the candidates. 

In the 2016 race the first five straw polls did not distinguish between ballots from the permanent, veto-wielding members of the Council (P5) and the 10 elected members. 

In October the straw polls move to a new phase where the P5 will use red coloured ballot papers so the preferences of the major powers will be revealed. 

While a so-called red ballot "discouraging" a candidate represents a potential veto, since the straw polls are informal votes the red discourage ballots do not necessarily prevent a candidate from becoming Secretary-General.

The purpose of the straw polls are to winnow down the field until the Council can agree on an acceptable candidate.  At this point, a formal vote will be held for a candidate, and, providing they receive nine or more positive votes and no negative votes from a P5 member, then they will be recommended to the General Assembly. 

Despite recommendations from the President of the General Assembly and from civil society for greater transparency, Security Council straw polls remain secret.  However, in practice, the overall outcome of each vote (without votes being attributed to Security Council members) is leaked and publicised widely on Twitter and in the press soon after the votes have taken place.

Catch up on the results of all the polls so far

Read Security Council Report's analysis of the straw polling process

What role does the General Assembly play in the process?

The UN Charter states that the “Secretary-General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council”.  This means that the Assembly drafts and votes on a resolution to appoint the candidate(s) recommended by the General Assembly. It also means that the Assembly determines key aspects of the appointment, such as term length and whether or not the term is renewable.

In the post-war environment of 1946, the General Assembly passed Resolution 1(11), which expressed a preference for the Security Council to present the Assembly with a single candidate, and for debate on the appointment to be avoided in the Assembly. It also set out a term limit of five years with the possibility of a further five years. In general, with some notable exceptions, these informally agreed practices have been followed for the past 70 years. However, altering them would simply require another General Assembly resolution.

The 1 for 7 Billion campaign has been campaigning for a single longer term for the next postholder, to free him or her from the political and time constraints of seeking re-appointment. The campaign has also argued for the Security Council to present multiple candidates to the General Assembly, as this would give the wider UN membership a real say in the selection process. It also reflects the practices adopted by other multilateral organisations, including UN agencies, in appointing their executive heads.

Read Security Council Report's guide to appointing the UN Secretary General

Could the General Assembly reject the Security Council's recommendation?

Under the UN Charter, the General Assembly has the power to vote on, and potentially refuse the Security Council’s recommendation if a majority do not vote in favour (in practice, the Security Council’s choice has generally been 'rubberstamped' without a vote). It could also stipulate term length and number in its appointment resolution.

Read Security Council Report's guide to appointing the UN Secretary General

What is the term length for the position of Secretary-General?

Recent SGs have been appointed for five years with an option to serve a second term of the same length.  However, this has not always been the case and the power lies with the General Assembly to make the decision. 

1 for 7 Billion has been calling for the Secretary-General to be appointed for a single, longer, non-renewable term of office, to strengthen her or his independence.

Read 1 for 7 Billion's policy paper on appointing the next UN leader for a single term

Do backroom deals go on in the Security Council?

One of the most visible types of backroom deals was articulated by UN inspectors in 2011 when they wrote that “no Secretary-General had been immune to political pressure” to reserve certain top UN jobs for certain member states.  This refers to the unfortunate practice of major powers extracting promises from candidates in return for their support. 

During the General Assembly informal dialogues, numerous member states asked candidates what they would do to halt the practice and instead make senior appointments open to all member states and based on merit.

Read 1 for 7 Billion’s paper calling for an end to backroom deals

Does the SG actually have any real power?

The post of UN Secretary-General is said to be the world’s most impossible job. It is also one of the most important.

From climate change to armed conflict, extremism to pandemics, many of the world’s defining problems transcend borders and require global solutions. In an increasingly polarised world facing multiple crises, only the UN can step up to meet the complex challenges. An effective Secretary-General can save lives.

The Secretary-General’s role has expanded rapidly in scope, importance and profile since the UN was created in 1945. She or he is uniquely placed to provide global leadership. She or he has powers to prevent wars through mediation, build partnerships with NGOs and businesses and urge governments to fulfil their global responsibilities on the environment, development and human rights. The Secretary-General works with 193 Member States and oversees 40,000 staff and 30 UN funds, programmes and agencies.

Read 1 for 7 Billion’s Buzzfeed on how SGs have made a difference

Who are the candidates?  What do they stand for?

A complete list of the candidates is available on the 1 for 7 Billion website along with links to their vision statements.

What is 1 for 7 Billion?

1 for 7 Billion is a global campaign, co-founded by UNA-UK, and supported by organisations and individuals from all corners of the globe committed to getting the best UN Secretary-General. 

The UN Secretary-General plays a crucial role in tackling global challenges and improving the lives of seven billion people. It is vital that the best person is chosen for the job, but the selection process is secretive and outdated.  The campaign is committed to an open, fair and inclusive process that gives the best possible chance of appointing a highly-qualified and visionary leader, equipped to deal with the world's crises.

Over 750 organisations have signed up to the campaign with a combined reach of more than 170 million people worldwide. Eminent personalities like Kofi Annan and increasing numbers of governments support our aims.

Read 1 for 7 Billion’s policy platform

When will the appointment be made?

The appointment is likely to be made in October 2016 with the new Secretary-General taking office on 1 January 2017.