French leader’s visit time to reconsider Surakiart’s UN bid
The visit of French President Jacques Chirac will shine a spotlight on Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai’s candidacy for the United Nations secretary-general position and could possibly bring the debate over his bid into the international arena, where things could really get muddy amid intense competition.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters yesterday that he plans to bring up the issue with the French leader, whose country, in its capacity as one of the five permanent members (Perm-5) of the UN Security Council, can veto any candidate proposed by the council.
Since Thailand announced its intention two years ago, the debate has hardly ever emerged in the public forum, partly because there was still some time to go before outgoing UN secretary-general Kofi Annan stepped down, which he will do later this year. Any serious debate would have been premature considering that, historically, UN member countries tend to keep their cards close to their chest when it comes to the affairs of this world body that is often referred to as a “winners’ club” in reference to the victors of World War II.
But the recent announcement of a Korean candidate entering the secretary-general race shows that the moment of truth is getting closer by the day.
Speaking at a recent public forum, a former Thai ambassador to the US, Kasit Piromya, said Thailand must reconsider its strategy now that there are more candidates, especially from Asian countries.
Among the candidates are veteran Sri Lankan diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala, a former UN deputy chief who was in charge of looking after efforts to limit the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who has served as South Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations and has been a key player in six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme, also recently announced his intention to join the race. East Timor’s Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Prize laureate, has also expressed interest in the post.
The competition is expected to become even more intense amid growing calls that the next UN chief should be Asian.
Will team Thailand continue to be naive, believing the 127 countries that it claims support the bid will stay with us to the finish line?
Kasit – who during his stint in Washington suggested Thailand reconsider Surakiart’s bid because the US appeared to be “unresponsive” and did not see his work experience as meeting their criteria – suggested the government consider a new strategy if it chooses to pursue its campaign for the post.
Kasit’s frank assessment during his posting in the US jolted Surakiart, who dismissed his analysis as resulting from a personal grudge, which he failed to elaborate upon.
As of now there is no new strategy from either the Foreign Ministry or the government to deal with the fact that the landscape has changed with more candidates who have strong track records emerging.
Speaking at the same seminar, ambassador Vitavas Srivihok continued to cling to the wishful notion that somehow Asean and the so-called 127 friends of Thailand would stick with Surakiart through thick and thin.
Former Thai representative to the UN Asda Jayanama suggested that it was silly to believe that handshakes from these 127 countries amounted to formal endorsements.
Asda said that from his six years’ experience as Thailand’s chief rep to the UN he learned that this number should be divided by half based on verbal endorsements, and that even with written endorsements, one should expect that at least 10 per cent should be discounted.
Moreover, said Asda, Thailand should focus its campaign on the 15 members of the UN Security Council, as they have the power to nominate a candidate.
More importantly, he pointed out, the campaign must concentrate on winning support from all Perm-5 members, because they have veto power.
According to Asda, the choice will be a done deal before it hits the floor of the UN General Assembly, where all members are expected to clap their hands to acknowledge that a new UN secretary-general has been appointed.
Indeed, the UN is a winner’s club, not a democratic institution, a diplomat reiterated.
Hence, Surakiart’s globe trotting over the past two years, to Asda, is a “waste of yours and my tax baht”.
But is now a good time to quit after two years of boasting to the Thai public about how much the world loves us? This is a point where Kasit and Asda differ.
Asda thinks Thailand has dug itself into too deep a hole to climb out of and that the government should have known better from the beginning than nominating a candidate he called “a third rate politician”.
Krasit, on the other hand, thinks Thailand can still maintain its pride and dignity by simply telling the world that there are better candidates out there.
From the sidelines, team Thailand doesn’t seems to have much ammunition left, other than the nationalism card that has consistently been played, as seen at the recent debate at Ramkhamhaeng University.
Outside the government, only a handful of academics have voiced their support for Surakiart, while the opposing voices appeared to be gaining ground. Besides Asda and Kasit, the former director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Economic Department, Kobsak Chutikul, has also suggested that Surakiart should reconsider.