Lula heading to Quito?

With Nestor Kirchner‘s untimely passing, member states of the Union of South American Nations (known by its Spanish acronym UNASUR) will be selecting a new Secretary-General this month. On 26 November, a summit of heads of state will take place, during which Kirchner’s successor is expected to be chosen. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who will leave the Brazilian presidency in January, appears to be the leading candidate.

“He’s a great candidate, not only because of his eight years of achievement in Brazil, en route to be one of the world’s leading powers, but also because of the international standing of Brazil. Maybe he’s too qualified for the Unasur job”, said Florencia Deich, regional integration expert from the Argentine Centre of International Studies.

The Constitutive Treaty provides that the Secretary-General is appointed to a single, non-renewable term of two years by the Council of Heads of State and Government upon a nomination from the Council of Foreign Ministers. The appointment is generally made by consensus, with the only restriction being that the office-holder cannot be of the same nationality as his or her immediate predecessor. The treaty does not provide for death of an office-holder for the post.

It was under the Lula presidency that Brazil proposed the creation of UNASUR. Lula signed the Constitutive Treaty for Brazil, yet the Brazilian legislature has yet to ratify it. Given Lula’s leadership and popularity, this is not likely to prevent his appointment if there is consensus however. In fact, his leadership of UNASUR may facilitate ratification, not only by Brazil but by a ninth state, required for the Constitutive Treaty to go into effect.

Of course, it is widely considered that Lula has global aspirations. He had been encouraged to challenge Ban Ki-Moon in 2011 for the post of UN Secretary-General by French president Nicolas Sarkozy, but publicly denied any interest in it. Ban’s chances of receiving a second nomination appear improved, if still not certain. Heading up UNASUR may help Lula if he wants to move to New York in 2016 to succeed Ban. Many observers consider the next regional turn at the UN helm to go to a Latin American. Lula would be 70 years old at the time, older than most former Secretaries-General, but the same age as Boutros Boutros-Ghali when he became UNSG in 1992.

Update: In addition to Lula, two other names are being floated. The first is Michele Bachelet, former president of Chile and incoming Under Secretary General of the newly established UN Women agency. She reported was hesitant to accept the UN post at first, preferring to remain involved in Chilean politics. Whether she was resign so soon and before the new agency was even up and running (by January 2011) is unknown. Another potential candidate is Tabaré Vazquez. former president of Uruguay. Kirchner’s appointment had initially been blocked by Vazquez’s administration over a pulp mill dispute between Uruguay and Argentina, lifted when Vazquez left office. Like Brazil, Uruguay also has yet to ratify the Constitutive Treaty.

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Tony Fleming

Tony is a communications and advocacy professional with over 20 years of experience in multilateral reform advocacy and online communications.

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