Political movement debuts to hold “world primaries” for UN Secretary-General

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Andrea Venzon and Colombe Cahen-Salvador, the founders of #Forward, a new digital campaign to “elect a progressive candidate backed by the people as the next leader of the United Nations!” A catch: the candidates cannot be men.

A popular new campaign, called #Forward, is launching open digital global primaries to find a “people-backed” candidate to run for the post of United Nations secretary-general this year, for a five-year term starting in 2022. The campaign aims to make the selection process more transparent and democratic while drawing more attention to the election itself.

“When you look, for example, at the selection process for the UN secretary general, and the fact that there is no popular will that is taken into account in that process, it’s a huge shame.” , Colombe Cahen-Salvador, co-founder of the movement, told PassBlue by videoconference. “As a result, nobody knows it, and nobody cares about it in the general population.”

Cahen-Salvador and Andrea Venzon, European citizens based in London, founded #Forward. They are young but experienced political organizers. In 2017, in response to the Brexit referendum, they said, they founded Volt Europa, a political party movement that elected a candidate to the European Parliament and many local councilors in Europe. Last year, Cahen-Salvador and Venzon also founded a non-governmental organization, called Now !, to support causes such as gender equality and climate change. At Volt Europa, they said they organized 60,000 people across the continent; Now! has 10,000 members in 120 countries, they said.

The selection process for the UN Secretary General has always been secret, but it was less so in 2016, for the first time since the institution was created in 1945. Then, thanks to the efforts of many organizations in society civil and with the help of key United Nations figures, such as the then President of the General Assembly, an open procedure was instituted. It enabled 13 people, including seven women, to stand as candidates, with the endorsement of their country, in formal public forums.

Today, Secretary General António Guterres, former Portuguese Prime Minister and UN refugee chief who has held the highest office since 2017, is running for re-election. Given that Guterres holds and has so far reportedly supported the permanent members of the Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States), other potential candidates have shown little appetite for present against him.

The founders of the #Forward initiative, which they announced on Twitter on March 11, have decided to get involved in the UN process to try to ensure it will be transparent and democratic in the effort. selection this year and that more people will care.

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“We did tests, talked to friends all over the world, and no one even knew it was happening,” Cahen-Salvador said. “So we thought, ‘OK, well, let’s change that,’ and one way to get people in general interested in these things, I think, is to have an election. Because if you have an election, there is definitely a bit of political play around it. “

The initiative has only one criterion for the candidates: to be a woman or to identify as a woman. “We need affirmative action and more women in power,” Cahen-Salvador said. “And for us, it is one of the fundamental criteria of this world primary.”

The 1 for 7 billion campaign helped broaden the process of the 2016 Secretary-General’s race to include nominations from all member states as well as parliaments and civil society organizations, although no candidate emerged. from these last two sources. This year, he encourages the same opportunities.

“We have always said that the best possible person should be appointed to this post, and we do not take a position on the candidates,” said a spokesperson. “But if you asked our members who they would like to see as 10th SG, you would probably get a list of women.”

Cahen-Salvador and Venzon launched a website to find volunteers for the project. They will start recruiting candidates in April, they said, targeting qualified and credible people. In May, they plan to hold a public online vote.

“If we find heavyweights with diplomatic or government experience, they might actually be plausible candidates,” Venzon said. “It would be a huge advantage for us, because then we also push their countries or other countries to maybe support them so that they can actually participate in the race.”

Although the current President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, indicated in January that the nomination process has started for candidates to submit their nominations, in accordance with the guidelines of General Assembly resolution 69/321, neither does Bozkir nor has the rotating monthly president of the Security Council – both responsible for the process – circulated the names of candidates who are not officially endorsed by member states. The #Forward campaign will seek to gain country support for a winning candidate.

“I think we will definitely look for support [from] Member States, especially if we find a heavyweight, ”Cahen-Salvador said. “We will seek the support of their nation first, but also others, and we also have in mind some names of potentially interested countries.”

Overall, the campaign’s goal is to democratize the selection process and give Guterres a viable candidate to run against. Arora Akanksha, a UN employee who announced her candidacy for Secretary-General last month, is yet to be recognized as such by Bozkir or the President of the Security Council because she is not supported by her country. (She has a Canadian passport but was born in India.) Although Bozkir’s spokesperson said this week that there were four applicants, he declined to say their names.

Cahen-Salvador stressed that the process, starting with the dominant role of the Security Council in decision-making, must be more democratic. “We will not change this unless citizens start to mobilize across the world,” she said. “So let’s do it, let’s kick it.”

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Stephanie Fillion

Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based foreign affairs and human rights journalist who has written regularly for PassBlue for the past year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new series of podcasts on global affairs through the prism. of ONU. She holds an MA in Journalism, Politics and Global Affairs from Columbia University and a BA in Political Science from McGill University. Fillion received a European Union Young Journalists Fellowship in Canada in 2015 and was editor-in-chief for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.


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