More on the 2013 UNESCO DG Election

unesco sign and  buildingThere is a good article in SciDev.Net by Yojana Sharma on the coming election for the post of Director General of UNESCO.

Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), faces an early challenge to her bid to secure a second four-year term, putting in doubt her radical proposal to merge the organisation’s science, social science and human sciences programmes. 

At a meeting with UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in September, Bulgarian president Rosen Plevneliev announced he will nominate Bokova for a second term beginning in October 2013. But now Djibouti has nominated its ambassador to France, Rachad Farah, with the backing of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). 

The early announcement took diplomats by surprise. A rival bid would not have been expected until early next year. 

“It seems like there will actually be a race for the office,” says John Daly, former president of the lobby group, Americans for UNESCO. “It is uncommon for the incumbent to be opposed — the last four director-generals averaged ten years in office and the majority served two terms.” 

The early announcement indicates that Djibouti will need a year of ‘shuttle diplomacy’ to drum up support, while diplomats in Paris have said that Bokova also needs a year of lobbying to convince member states that she deserves another term.

Rumors are circulating that several other nations are considering making nominations. The rumors include names of a couple of former senior UNESCO staff being considered by their governments.

Individuals are suggested for the position by the member states of UNESCO. Usually the suggestion of a specific individual is made by the person’s own country, but not always.

The 58 member Executive Board reviews the slate of candidates in its meeting just prior to the biannual meeting of the General Conference. The candidates are given the opportunity to meet with the Executive Board at the time. The Executive Board votes on the recommendation to the General Conference.

That is the way the process is supposed to go. However, when Luther Evans was elected, he was serving as a member of the Executive Board. While not previously suggested by his government, the Executive Board nominated him rather than the suggested candidates.

Here are the rules for the Executive Board in its nomination of the Director General:

Nomination of Director-General

  1. At least six months before the expiry of the term of office of the Director-General or as soon as possible in case of vacancy at any other time, the Executive Board shall invite Member States to suggest, confidentially, the names of persons who might be considered for the post of Director-General, requesting them at the same time to provide full biographical details regarding these persons.
  2. The Executive Board shall consider in private meeting all the names so suggested, together with any proposed by Members of the Board, provided that no candidature shall be considered unless biographical details are available.
  3. The person to be nominated by the Executive Board shall be chosen by secret ballot.
  4. The Chairman of the Board shall inform the General Conference of the candidate nominated by the Board.

The Executive Board may define more specific procedures as long as they conform to those defined in the Basic Texts of UNESCO.

The last election was closely fought, with four ballots necessary to select a final candidate (see posts from 2009 on this blog).  The General Conference at that time accepted the nomination of the Executive Board, although it did not do so unanimously.

About the Author

John Daly

John Daly is the former director of the USAID Office of Research and instructor at George Washington University on UNESCO. His professional background is in promoting the capacity for science and technology in developing nations, especially the applications of information and communications technology. He served as the acting Work Program Administrator of infoDev, and has been a consultant with the RAND Corporation, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and on the Research and Training Network of the Development Gateway. He served as Vice President of Americans for UNESCO from 2005-2012.

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