In its seventieth session, the General Assembly has made history. Following the adoption of resolution 69/321 last fall, major advances have been made towards a more transparent appointment process for the next Secretary-General. A formal process has been established for candidates to be nominated; the credentials of each of the candidates have been posted online; and both Member States and civil society representatives have had the opportunity to engage with all twelve official candidates in a series of “informal dialogues.” Moreover, through the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the General Assembly, Member States have been able to consider still further reforms to the appointment process.
At the same time, these innovations by the General Assembly are only half the picture. Under the UN Charter, both the Assembly and the Security Council have crucial roles to play in the appointment process. While the General Assembly will be responsible for making the appointment, the Council must recommend at least one candidate for the Assembly to consider.
Calls for Greater Transparency in the Council
As outlined in the “joint letter,” which laid out the procedures for this year’s appointment process, this month marks the start of the Council’s deliberations on the candidates. The Council’s provisional rules of procedure are vague about how the Council will make its recommendation, stating simply that it “shall be discussed and decided at a private meeting.”However, since 1981, the Council has used “straw polls” to determine whether members of the Council “encourage,” “discourage,” or have “no opinion” about each of the candidates. Ambassador Otunnu of Uganda, who first proposed the use of straw polls, developed the mechanism as a way to identify which candidates enjoyed broad support before going to an official vote.
In contrast to the steps taken by the General Assembly this year, the Security Council has held its discussions mostly behind closed doors. In addition to establishing procedures to recommend a candidate, it has been reported that the Council has met privately with each of the candidates to help inform its recommendation.
Most significantly, the Council has decided only to share the date of its “straw polls” with all Member States, rather than the outcome. In response, the President of the General Assembly issued a letter urging the Council to share the results of the polls, as to do otherwise would not live up to the “new standard of openness and transparency.” Several Member States also called on the Council to publish the results during an open debate on the Council’s working methods last week.
Straw Polls and the Security Council
On 21 July, the Council held its first straw poll of the candidates. With twelve “encourage” votes and no “discourages,” António Guterres (Portugal) was the most successful during the first round. He was followed closely by Danilo Türk, with eleven “encourage” votes. Strikingly, in a year with six women candidates, only one woman—Irina Bokova (Bulgaria)—emerged in the top five. For the full results of the straw poll, visit 1for7billion.org.
At the same time, it would be premature to assume that Guterres will be the Council’s choice. Last week’s poll is only the first of what is expected to be a series of polls over the coming weeks; already, a second poll has been scheduled for 5 August. Members of the Council will have several opportunities to express their views, and change their minds, about the candidates before a formal vote is taken. Indeed, Ambassador Otunnu, who first proposed the use of straw polls, saw this as their “purpose”:
I wanted to gauge that and then tell that to the Council, saying “look, this is where we are.” That way, the Council could immediately then see if, for example, Perez de Cuellar [a candidate for Secretary-General that year] was a fluke, somebody would say "oh my goodness, we have to do something to block him, we didn't mean to give the signal that he could actually go unblocked." 
In other words, if Council members object to the ranking that emerged from the first straw poll, they will be able to correct the results in future rounds.
Interpreting these results is also complicated by the role of the veto. As a “substantive issue,” the recommendation of a Secretary-General is subject to a veto from any of the permanent members of the Council.  Thus, some of the “discourage” votes matter more than others. In theory, a candidate facing several “discourage” votes can prevail, as long as they can avoid a veto. Similarly, a single “discourage” vote could prove an insurmountable obstacle if it comes from one of the P5.
In the past, this issue has been resolved by using color-coded ballot papers to distinguish between permanent and non-permanent members. Yet color-coded ballots create their own problems, as non-permanent members may feel pressured to withdraw their support for a candidate who is opposed by the P5. This can allow the P5 to have an undue influence on the results, often without even casting a formal vote. While it is likely that color-coded ballots will be used during later rounds of straw polls, it remains unclear when, or under what circumstances, the Council will decide to make the transition.
The General Assembly as 'Kingmaker'
Of course, even if the General Assembly is kept in the dark about the deliberations of the Security Council, it is not powerless to influence the appointment process. Regardless of which candidate the Council recommends, the Assembly must decide whether or not to accept the Council’s choice.
In recent years, the Assembly has generally accepted the Council’s recommendation without dispute. However, this year, steps are already underway to ensure that the Assembly takes its appointment role seriously. This spring, the Accountability, Coherence, and Transparency (ACT) group--a cross-regional group of 25 Member States--urged the President of the General Assembly to identify co-facilitators for the appointment resolution. In effect, this would establish a process through which Member States could negotiate the terms of appointment for the next Secretary-General.
For some, this is seen as a way of ensuring that the Assembly assumes its rightful role as ‘kingmaker’ in the appointment process. It has also been described as a way to further discuss the length of the Secretary-General’s term, including the option of a single, longer mandate.  With the support of the Non-Aligned Movement, it has been agreed that the Ad Hoc Working Group will meet to discuss the negotiation of an appointment resolution in mid to late August.
These transitions—from the General Assembly to the Security Council, and back again— are an important test of the new process. Will the Council rise to the standard of transparency and inclusiveness established by the General Assembly? Or will it be “business as usual,” with the Council selecting a single candidate behind closed doors? The next few months will be crucial to ensuring that the new procedures are more than just a front for the status quo—and that the spirit of inclusiveness and transparency prevails throughout the process.
See Rule 48, Provisional Rules of Procedure
 Yun Tape, September 24, 1990, Interview with Ambassador Olara Otunnu
 See Lorraine Sievers’ analysis at scprocedure.org
 To learn more about this proposal, see 1 for 7 Billion’s paper, “Appointment of the Secretary-General for a longer single term.”
Who do you think could become the next Secretary-General? How do you understand the current dynamics of the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly in the election process? Can the transparency of the process be further improved for a more constructive relationship between the actors involved in the process? What can the current reform efforts in the selection of the SG tell us about the logic of the UN and world politics? Join the discussion and leave your comments below.