Bulgaria’s Georgieva unsettles race to be UN chief


The newest candidate to be UN secretary-general, Kristalina Georgieva, says she may be a “latecomer” to the race, but still has strong credentials to become the first woman to lead the United Nations.

The 63-year-old Bulgarian economist who served as European budget commissioner has shaken up the contest to succeed Ban Ki-moon, who steps down at the end of the year after serving two five-year terms.

On Monday, she goes before the General Assembly for a two-hour question-and-answer session, hoping to persuade world diplomats that she is as ready as some of the other candidates who have been in the race for months.

“I hope to be judged on merits, not on the duration on the campaign trail,” Georgieva told AFP in an interview on Friday.

“I’m a latecomer not by choice, but by necessity. The Bulgarian government has invited me to join the race now,” said Georgieva, who had been tipped to be a candidate for months.

The Bulgarian government this week withdrew its support for UNESCO chief Irina Bokova after she failed to make a strong showing during informal voting for the new UN chief at the Security Council.

Despite the late entry, the former World Bank vice-president said she was not “an unknown quantity” in international circles and at the United Nations, where last year she led a high-profile panel on humanitarian financing.

“What I bring to the position is a breadth of experience in international development, humanitarian aid and dealing with fragility,” she said.

– Representing half of the world –

Georgieva is considered a strong contender because she would satisfy calls for a woman to lead the United Nations and for a candidate from eastern Europe to be chosen, the only region that has yet to be represented in the top post.

“It is important for the world that there be a woman secretary-general,” she said, adding that in the UN’s 71-year history “only half of the world” has been represented in the eight men that have held the top job.

After five straw polls by the Security Council to pick the new UN chief, Portugal’s former prime minister Antonio Guterres has emerged as the frontrunner.

On Wednesday, the contest will head into new territory when the five permanent Security Council members – Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States – will use colored ballots in the straw poll.

That will indicate to the 10 candidates in the race whether they face a veto if the council moves to a formal vote, which could happen in the coming weeks.

While Georgieva has the backing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European governments, the question is whether Russia will support her.

Russia has said it would prefer a candidate from eastern Europe, but Georgieva’s ties to the European Union, which has slapped sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, could disqualify her in Moscow’s eyes.

A fluent Russian speaker, Georgieva has however developed good relations during her time as country director in Moscow for the World Bank, from 2004 to 2007.

– Syria, UN reforms –

With the United Nations facing criticism of being ineffective and overly bureaucratic, Georgieva spoke of her “unwavering, roll-my-sleeves and get-it-done attitude” and of holding a “long track record on reforms.”

On Syria, now in its sixth year of a worsening war, Georgieva pointed to a lack of “determined political will” to achieve a settlement to a very complex conflict, with multiple actors.

“We have to recognize that even with the best of wills, peace requires more than agreements in New York,” she said.

“It requires locally an ability to overcome deep ethnic divisions, to overcome a myriad of conflicting interests within Syria and in the countries that surround it.”

Born in Sofia, Georgieva began her career as a university professor before joining the World Bank where she worked for 17 years, climbing the ranks to become vice president and corporate secretary in 2008.

It was as European Commissioner for humanitarian aid — a position she held from 2010 to 2014 — that Georgieva’s star rose in European circles.

Described as media-savvy and well-spoken, Georgieva was able to mobilize Europeans to respond to world humanitarian crises, traveling to flood-hit Pakistan, the Sahel and raising her voice for aid in Syria and Yemen.

A self-described workaholic, she moved on in 2014 to the post of European budget commissioner, overseeing the European Union’s annual budget of $155 billion and also serves as the commission’s vice-president.

© 2016 AFP

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