Former Prime Minister Helen Clark made no progress in Monday’s Security Council straw poll to select the next United Nations Secretary General

She got six “encourage” votes; eight “discourage” and one no opinion, the same as her score in the last poll at the beginning of the month.

That put her sixth in the field of 10, equal with the Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim. 

Essentially it was no change on her performance in the last round. A spokesperson for her says the team thinks it is significant that she did not lose any support 

“We think it is significant that Helen Clark did not lose any support in the latest poll and are happy with her sitting in the middle of the pack.”  

Only two of  the candidates improved between the second and third polls.  “The polls show this process is volatile, and still has several weeks to run,” the spokesperson said.

One of those to lose support was the front-runner, the former Portuguese Prime Minister and UN High Commissioner for Refugees,  Antonio Guterres, who  gained one more discourage vote remains in front. 

The votes currently taking place are not formal votes but if they were an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of permanent members would be required to become the Security Council’s nomination to the General Assembly.

So far only Mr Guterres can meet that threshold, but the question is who has cast the vote against him?

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Russia has made it clear that it believes the next Secretary General should come from the Eastern bloc of countries.

Prime Minister John Key said this was the message Foreign Minister Murray McCully got from his recent meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.

“It’s no secret that Russia believes that it is the turn of an Eastern European candidate so they have been actively promoting that and if not an Eastern European they have been promoting a European.” he said.

“They have been quite adamant in their view, and they are not in any way shape or form being duplicitous, saying one thing to our face and another behind our back.”

Four of the five candidates above Clark in this latest poll were Eastern Europeans.

Making a big improvement on his previous polls, Slovakia’s Russian educated Foreign Minister; Miroslav Lajcak got nine encourage votes, and five discourage.

But whether his CV, which includes one-time membership of the Communist Party, would provoke an American veto is an issue.

After him came Irina Bokova, currently heading UNESCO also a Moscow-educated former member of the Communist Party in her native Bulgaria.

Vuk Jeremic ended with the same score as her. He is British educated and has been a democracy activist for Serbia. He has strong support from Western Governments like Spain but as the former Foreign Minister of Serbia, he will be well known to the Russians also.

He, like Helen Clark, wants to see substantial reform of the UN bureaucracy.

And level pegging with Clark is Srgjan Kerim, the former Macedonian Foreign Minister, academic and businessman, Srgjan Kerim.

The only western candidate between Clark and Guterres is Susanna Malcorra, currently Argentina’s Foreign Minister but previously the chef de cabinet in the office of the current UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon.

She is backed by the United States. 

Interestingly in her role in Ban Ki Moon’s office, she clashed with Helen Clark, who heads the Un Development Programme,

The magazine “Foreign Policy’ has reported that “Clark’s top managers allegedly drove one UNDP official out of her job in retaliation for participating in an investigation that sharply criticised the agency’s response to mass atrocities in Sri Lanka.”

The magazine said the offices of the deputy U.N. secretary-general and a top aide to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon lobbied Clark’s office to rescue the UNDP official’s career, but they were unsuccessful.

The top aide was Malcorra.

The incident and other allegations that Clark has alienated people are well known within the United Nations community in New York, and there is speculation that because UN bureaucrats are international, they have the ability to influence their home Governments, and this could count against her.

But the Prime Minister believes her best chance is if the selection process becomes deadlocked with Russia and other permanent members, particularly the United States, using their vetoes to knock out each other’s candidates.

“One body of thought has always been that Helen Clark could potentially be the compromise candidate, that if the Russians were to be supporting one candidate and they were to be vetoed by one of the other Permanent Five members, or vice versa, then ultimately she could be seen as a very safe pair of hands coming through the middle.

“I still think that is legitimate so while the straw polls haven’t been that strong for her I don’t think that means she is completely out of the race.

“It makes it a little more challenging, and everyone can see the tactical voting that’s going on here so it’s even going to improve for her or life’s going to get a little tougher.” 

In fact, though the vote didn’t improve her position, she didn’t slip back either.