Photo credit Moushira Khattab official Twitter account Photo credit Moushira Khattab official Twitter account

How does the UNESCO elect its chief?

Tue, Oct. 10, 2017
CAIRO – 10 October 2017: On Monday, seven countries, including Egypt, vied for the leadership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, France. In the first round of the voting process, 58 members of the UNESCO Executive Board voted in a secret ballot to select a successor director-general for Bulgarian Irina Bokova.

The UNESCO Executive Board can vote over a maximum of five rounds, until a majority of votes is met. The elected candidate will then be presented to the agency’s General Assembly for final approval. The next secret ballot will be held on Tuesday evening following the plenary session of the Executive Board.

None of the candidates received an absolute majority of votes necessary for the victory. Egypt and Africa’s candidate, Ambassador Moushira Khattab, came in third place with 11 votes, while Qatar’s candidate Hamad Abdul Aziz al-Kawari received 19 votes, and France’s Audrey Azoulay received 13 votes in the first round of votes. The remaining four candidates received the following votes; Lebanese candidate Vera al-Khoury had six votes, Chinese candidate Qian Tang received five votes, while Pham Sanh Chau of Vietnam and Polad Bülbüloglu of Azerbaijan gained two votes each.

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Moushira Khattab, Egypt – Photo credit UNESCO/Christelle ALIX

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Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, Qatar - Photo credit UNESCO/ Nora Houguenade

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In these elections, Arab countries make up almost half of the shortlisted candidates to the UNESCO’s director-general position. In UNESCO’s history, no Arab country has ever been leading the organization.

Procedure for the nomination of the director-general of UNESCO

The UNESCO director-general, who serves as the organization’s chief administrative officer, is nominated by the Executive Board and appointed by its General Conference. The organization’s chief may be appointed initially for a period of four years, and may be appointed for a further term of four years, but shall not be eligible for reappointment for a subsequent third term.

In its Executive Board's 202nd session from October 4 to October 18, a candidate for the chief post will be proposed for election to all of the Organization’s 195 member states on November 10, during the forthcoming 39th session of the General Conference of UNESCO. The new director-general will take office on November 15.

The voting process, which started on October 9, will be conducted by secret ballot in private meetings. A majority is required to win the nomination. If the majority is not met, the chair person announces the need to proceed to a second round of voting in the following day. The winner is expected to be announced no later than Friday, October 13.

The number of recorded votes during the ballot represents the total number of board members left after deducting the number of members absent, the number of blank ballot papers, and the number of invalid ballot papers. The majority required will be more than half that number. Those receiving a number of votes in favor, equal or superior to the majority required shall be declared elected.

The ballots for the nomination of a candidate for the post of UNESCO Director-General:

Any candidate obtaining in the first ballot more than half of the valid votes, shall be declared elected. If no candidate obtains an absolute majority in the first ballot, further ballots shall be taken. If, after four ballots, no candidate has obtained an absolute majority, a final ballot shall be taken, restricted to the two candidates who obtained the most votes in the fourth ballot. The candidate obtaining a majority of the votes cast shall be declared elected.

The timeline of this round of elections is as follows:

The first ballot – Monday October 9, 2017: Majority not obtained.
The second ballot – Tuesday October 10, 2017: If the required majority is not obtained, a third ballot shall be taken.

The third ballot – Wednesday October 11, 2017: If the required majority is not obtained, a fourth ballot shall be taken.

The fourth ballot – Thursday October 12, 2017: If the required majority is not obtained, a final ballot shall be taken.

The fifth ballot – Friday October 13, 2017: During this round, a final ballot shall be taken, restricted to the two candidates who obtained the most votes in the fourth ballot.

The candidate obtaining a majority of the votes cast shall be declared elected. If, in the final ballot or an eliminating ballot, two or more candidates obtain the same number of votes, the Chairman shall decide between them by drawing lots.

Nomination of the director-general starts at least six months before the expiry of the term of office of the director-general, or, in case of vacancy, at any other time. The Executive Board invites member states to suggest the names of persons who might be considered for the post, requesting them at the same time to provide full biographical details regarding these persons.

On October 19, 2016 the chairperson of the Executive Board invited governments of all member states to communicate the names, full biographical details and vision statements of persons who could be considered as candidates for the post of director-general. Interviews of candidates for the office of director-general took place in public during the plenary meetings of the 201st session of the Executive Board on April 26 and 27, 2017.

Outgoing UNESCO Director-General Bulgarian, Irina Bokova, held the position for two successive four-year terms. The UNESCO is facing a plunge in funding after recognizing Palestine as a member state in 2011, which led to both the U.S. and Israel to halt their contributions. The new director-general will have a heavy task of securing back those funds.

In an interview with French Le Monde, Bovoka said that her successor should have “the ability to raise funds and unite [members]." She added that “the organization is a dream for the world, but it faces financial and political difficulties.”
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