This is the second piece in a series studying potential candidates for the position of the United Nations Secretary-General, which is set for election in 2016. It is unknown at present whether or not Ban Ki-moon will stand again – for a combination of reasons, including death, Security Council veto, and personal preference, no Gen-Sec has ever sat through more than two terms, although there is no official limit to the time that an individual can spend in office. The first part of this series proposed current UN General Assembly Chairman Vuk Jeremic, a Serbian diplomat, as a potential candidate. This second article proposes Helen Clark, a politician from New Zealand, as another.
Candidate II – Helen Clark
Clark, unlike Jeremic, may be a favourite amongst the Security Council members, and is certainly popular amongst the rest of the UN members. She is experienced, powerful, and answers the calls for increased female representation in the UN executive: she would, incidentally, be the first female Gen-Sec. Clark would also be the first to have already served as a head of state prior to her election – former generals Kurt Waldheim of Austria, and Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru were both heads of state after their stints at the UN. Not only does Clark appeal to the power-sceptics and the feminists, but her role as chief administrator of the UN Development Program has exposed her as an important figure in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Domestic Political Career – Trained in political theory in her home-country New Zealand, Clark became a member of parliament in 1981 and held several cabinet positions before being elected the first female Prime Minister of the country in 1999. Her time in office began with a sweeping victory, followed by a decade of economic growth and low unemployment. She was known for her ‘people’s policies’, that included increasing the minimum wage, and providing interest-free student loans. Clark was also engaged in international socio-economic and cultural development programs during her time in office, as a member of groups such as the Council of Women World Leaders, that campaigns for women’s rights all over the globe. Despite being defeated in 2008, Clark is held in high opinion in the Kiwi political sphere.
UNDP Administrator – A year after defeat in the New Zealand 2008 general election, Clark was appointed to what is considered the third highest position within the United Nations: that of Administrator to the UN Development Program. Appointed personally by Ban Ki-Moon, Clark also had much support from the south Asia-Pacific, and much of the global north, including then-British PM Gordon Brown. Earlier this month, she was reappointed to the position for a second four-year stint, but could cut this a year short if she were to stand for the role of Gen-Sec. Despite the distinctly humanitarian and philanthropic discourse surrounding the UNDP – “sustainable human development and poverty eradication will continue to be at the heart of what the UNDP does” – her time as chief administrator has come under some criticism. The UNDP’s own board released a performance report earlier this year that proved to be rather scathing, criticising the relationship between the organisation’s budget and the material effects of its activities. The board wrote that it considered the US$5.7bn, and the undertakings funded by such capital, to “have only remote connections with poverty, if at all”, highlighting Clark’s trickle down approach to development as ineffective. Her recent reappointment to the leading role will, however, has given the Kiwi a chance to silence her critics, if she can lead the UNDP to success over the course of the next four years. Clark, for the good of both world development and her own reputation, must engage effectively if she is to stand a chance against a host of candidates for the UN Gen-Sec role in 2016.
Clark ticks many boxes in many different ways; her experience is almost unmatched, her friends stretch far and wide, and her image as a powerful female leader is certainly an asset from which the UN executive could continue to benefit. The question will be as to whether a second term as UNDP administrator will make or break her. Should the organisation implement some, in the board’s views, effective policies, Clark may stand a very good chance. However, a continuation of debatable success may hamper her odds. Compared to Jeremic, Clark has far less to do in terms of pleasing the international sphere; but her task of dazzling the UN executive is probably the toughest mission of all the candidates.
UNDP Administrator Biography. 2013, Available at www.undp.org. Retrieved 24/04/2013
‘Scathing report of Helen Clark at the UN’, 16/01/2013. Available at www.3news.co.nz. Retrieved 24/04/2013
‘Helen Clark to serve in UN role for another four years’, 13/04/2013. Available at www.tvnz.co.nz. Retrieved 15/04/2013