Despite mounting controversy during the final moments, former Portuguese prime minister António Guterres sailed through the 6th vote in the tortuous process that conditions the election of the UN secretary-general and is now certain to take over the reins from Ban ki-Moon in 2017.
The news, to be confirmed in a final vote this morning, has been welcomed from multiple quarters, with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa saying it “elevates Portugal in the eyes of the world”.
The sudden entrance of 11th hour candidate Kristalina Georgieva failed to dent Guterres’ popularity – despite the fact that this appears to have been the intention – and this too was seen by Marcelo as “victory for transparency on an international scale”.
“The voting shows that at the decisive moment, no one was against Guterres or against Portugal”, said the president, reiterating his conviction that “Guterres is the best candidate” for the job.
In the UK Guardian, world affairs editor Julian Borger referred to Guterres’ record as a tireless “activist on humanitarian causes”.
During his decade as the UN’s refugee chief, he has “persistently appealed to the conscience of the international community over the worst refugee crisis since the second world war” and has “vowed to carry on being a spokesman for the downtrodden” as UN secretary general.
This makes his victory “surprising”, says Borger “as both Russia and China in particular have been resistant to outspoken activists in top UN posts. Also, there was widespread sentiment this year that it was time for a woman to run the organisation for the first time in its 71-year history, and there were several strong female candidates in the contest”.
Here, national tabloid Correio da Manhã suggests Georgieva was “humiliated” by yesterday’s vote – with the UN itself “not emerging without unscathed”, but perhaps one of the best summings up was given by another female candidate who also ‘lost’ in the vote, Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres.
Calling the result “bittersweet”, Figueres tweeted: “Bitter: not being a woman: Sweet: by far the best man in the race. Congrats Antonio Guterres! We are all with you”.