Portugal red-faced as Ban Ki-moon says next UN boss “should be a woman”

Portuguese officials have not reacted well to the news that the secretary general of the United Nations (UN) Ban Ki-moon has said “it is high time” for a woman to become the next UN boss.

In other words, the implicit message that caused disapproval in Portugal is that Ban Ki-moon would rather see a woman take the job than António Guterres, the former Portuguese prime minister who has also headed the UN refugee agency and is considered the favourite to be named for the role.

Though he stressed that the decision is not up to him, Ban Ki-moon said there are “many distinguished and eminent woman leaders” in all kinds of governments, businesses and organisations.

“There’s no reason why it is not the same in the United Nations,” Ban added.

He did not name any names, saying only there are many women “who can really change this world, who can actively engage with the other leaders of the world”.

“So that’s my humble suggestion, but that’s up to member states,” he concluded.

Reacting to the news, Portugal’s foreign affairs minister Augusto Santos e Silva told Diário de Notícias that “Ban Ki-moon was right when he said the decision is not up to him”.

He added that it was Ki-moon himself who told Expresso newspaper in May that the current secretary general “has to be neutral and impartial”.

Francisco Seixas da Costa, who was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs when Guterres was PM, also criticised Ki-moon’s statement.

“It was an unfortunate statement which should never have been uttered by someone who should be impartial and neutral, especially at a time like this, when we already are in an advanced stage of the voting,” he told DN.

He advised Guterres to “ignore” what was said.

Mónica Ferro, a former PSD MP and a “specialist in UN matters”, said that while Ban Ki-moon has every right to promote “gender equality, he had 10 years to do so and didn’t”.

“He could have named a woman as his deputy secretary-general, but he didn’t,” she stressed.

Whether Ban Ki-moon’s statement will affect the voting in any way remains to be seen.

According to BBC, the highest-performing women in the polls have been Irina Bokova of Bulgaria and Susana Malcorra of Argentina, who have both reached third place in the rankings.

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