A Tale of Two Chiefs

Two significant global institutions are currently engaged in filling vacancies at the top. In one case, there was active lobbying and public debate on the candidates, the criteria and the principles and process for selection. Despite commitments to a merit based process that would open the role to non-European candidates, power equations and lack of Southern solidarity are making it more than likely that the role will be filled by yet another French national.

At the other institution, the incumbent received the unanimous endorsement of a fraction of the organisation’s membership and this was apparently sufficient to obtain the approval of the wider membership to guarantee him another term in office. Oddly it is the latter institution that makes much of its democratic values, often touting them as giving it superior legitimacy in world affairs.

The first institution is of course the International Monetary Fund, where the contest for the top job evoked some sound and fury, if little substance. The second is the United Nations where Ban Ki Moon has been handed a second term as Secretary General without contest or debate.

Could it be the degree of power wielded by each office that makes the difference, making the IMF job worth the fray and the UN one a formality? Is it that Ban Ki Moon’s performance in the role has been so exceptional that there is no question that he must receive a second term? Or  is it just the weight of UN tradition where a second term is a certainty unless one has offended a powerful member?

More importantly, there is the deeper question of the processes by which these appointments are made and the fact that they are still held ransom to antiquated, post World War II power dynamics. The state of global geo-politics in 2011 is very different from the late 1940s and it is high time that key appointments to global bodies not only reflect the changed situation but are also firmly grounded in principles of equity, justice and representation..

At a juncture in world affairs when breakthroughs on trade, aid, climate, development, finance, conflict and a host of other issues require strong, inclusive, legitimate leadership from global institutions, it appears that these institutions and those that determine their fates have chosen to miss an opportunity to raise the bar.

You may also want to check out this piece from Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury entitled “Ban's Second Term: The Case for a Woman Secretary-General”.




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