Seven candidates compete for top post at UNIDO

Update on the vote count below. 

Mr. Kandeh Yumkella, incumbent Director General of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), will be leaving office on later this month. His second term as head of the organization was scheduled to run through December, but he offered his resignation earlier this year to lead the Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative. His resignation was anticipated since Secretary General Ban asked him to take on the role last year.

The post of UNIDO Director General is limited to two terms, so it was already expected to be an open race with multiple candidates. While equitable geographic representation is encouraged for the governing Industrial Development Board, for the staff and in other roles, there is no traditional of regional rotation in the top post. The most recent Directors General came from the Philippines, Mexico, Argentina, Sierra Leone.

The search for Yumkella’s successor began shortly after his appointment to the Secretary General’s initiative. In October, a review of the procedures for selecting the new Director General was circulated. It reiterated the provisions from the UNIDO Constitution and the governing Industrial Development Board’s rules of procedures. It also outlined a recommendation from the UN’s Joint Inspection Unit calling for candidate forums in open contests for senior multilateral posts. At the same time, it noted the short 2-month turn-around between the close of nominations and the election and advised member states to consider if a forum was thus feasible.

The note needs to be highlighted far beyond its relevance to the UNIDO selection however. Almost unique among reviews of selection processes, it provide a brief but comprehensive review of selection processes at other multilaterals – including the FAO, the WHO, WIPO and others. Those provisions should be included in the binder of every election officer at the United Nations and in foreign ministries, not to mention observers, civil society groups and reform proponents.

A more detailed note on the procedures was circulated in November, specifically to lay out options for the organization given the anticipated resignation of Yumkella prior to the end of his term. The paper noted that the options included the appointment of an Acting Director General for the remaining months as had been done in 1993, or the convening of a special General Conference session. It noted that the cost of a special one-day session would cost the organization approximately €45,000.

The search process began in earnest the following month. A note verbale was circulated to member states’ foreign affairs ministries on 5 December 2012 – four and half months prior to the close of nominations – informing members of the procedures for the appointment of the Director-General and inviting nominations. (UNIDO follows a prevalent, but not universal, practice in multilateral leadership selection in limiting nominations to the nominee’s home government.)


Nominations Process

The note pointed out that nominations were to be received by the President of the Board two months prior to the opening date of the Board’s last meeting prior to the session of the organizational General Conference at which the Director General is selected. This year, the Board’s forty-first session will be held from 24 June 2013. Accordingly, the deadline for receipt of nominations was 24 April. Seven nominees were received by the deadline.

The names and curricula vitae of candidates received by the President as of the deadline were circulated to all Member States on 13 May 2013, along with short video comments from each candidates (linked above). 

Following the recommendation of the JIU as described in the October 2012 memo, the Board agreed to convene a candidate forum, during which the nominees could present their vision and strategic direction for UNIDO to representatives of all UNIDO Member States. A briefing on how the forum was conducted was provided on 15 May and the forum held the following week on 21 May. The Board conducted another briefing for member states on 7 June to ensure member states understood the processes for the election itself. 

Candidates are currently reaching out to member states to convey their credentials and qualifications for the post, both in person and via social media. Sok Siphana of Cambodia and Diana Battaggia of Italy have both created campaign websites to highlight their candidacies. Siphana also uses a dedicated Facebook page to provide updates. Battaggia provides updates on updates on Twitter and has launched a Youtube channel in which supporters ask viewers to “be part of the solution”  with her as the new Director General. (Poland’s nominee, Marcin Korolec also maintains a Twitter account, but in his capacity as environmental minister rather than as a candidate.)

 

The election process

When the Board convenes on 24-27 June, members will discuss the nominees in closed session. The Board will carry out a series of ballots to determine which candidate has the most support. A nominee for Director General must receive support from 2/3 of the Board to be recommended to the General Conference for appointment. If this is achieved in the first series of ballots, the process concludes and the name is forwarded to the General Conference.

If no one chosen during the first series of balloting, a second series takes places after member states consult over the decision. During the second series of ballots, the procedures allow for narrowing the field of candidates by removing the one with the fewest votes after each ballot. The goal of the second series is to reduce the slate to two candidates. On this series, a candidate must still receive support of 2/3 of members to secure the Board’s recommendation.

If the second series of balloting cannot narrow the field to two candidates, a third series is held. During the third series, the threshold for securing the recommendation drops to a simple majority. Again, the goal in this series is to reduce the number of candidates to two. If the balloting cannot identify the candidate to be recommended, a fourth series of balloting occurs, limited to the two candidates that have received the highest support. No more than three ballots are taken during this series.  If neither of the two candidates can receive a simple majority of support, the field is re-opened to new nominees and the balloting process begins again.

Once a candidate received the necessary support, his or her name is recommended to the General Conference for appointment. This Board decided to pursue the option of a special one-day session of the General Conference rather than appoint an acting Director General. This special session will convene on 28 June, with the agenda consisting of two items: to appoint a new Director General, and to negotiate and approve the terms and conditions of his/her employment.

The new office-holder will sign the employment contract with the President of the Board and assume office immediately upon his or her appointment on 28 June.  This provides no time between the formal election and the new Director General assuming office. Given the nomination from the Board will have taken place at most only 4 days prior, there will be no formal time for preparation or consultations between the incumbent and incoming Directors General.

 

Process Review

The UNIDO selection provides for a number of effective selection mechanisms and is working to improve in other ways. The advance announcement and explanation of the selection procedures to be used informs member states and set expectations. A formal deadline and distribution of nominees’ curricula vitae encourages qualified nominations to be put forward openly and transparently. Adding a candidate forum to the selection timeline allows the broader membership to assess candidates against desired qualifications and needs of the broader organization and brings the UNIDO into line with best practices at other multilaterals.

In other areas, the Board should aim toward improvements. The choice of holding a special session of the General Conference should be reconsidered given the cost to the organization and its limited benefits. The lengthy nomination period should be shortened in order to provide a longer period for engagement with candidates following the close of nominations. And lastly, the lack of any transition period between the outgoing and incoming Director General is a weakness that unnecessarily delays the ability of the new office-holder to hit the ground running.

The Board should be commended for taking the steps that improve the process and include on its agenda the remaining and easily correctable gaps that remain. 

 

UPDATE: Election outcome

The Board convened on 24 June and moved to select a nominee for recommendation to the Conference. Libya’s nominee had withdrawn prior and was not considered. Li Yong received 37 out of 53 votes in the first round, preventing the need for further series of ballots.  Korolec received 6 votes, Battaggia received 3, and the remaining candidates received 2-3 votes each. Li was officially appointed to a four-year term by the Conference on 28 June, and assumed office immediately. 

Daniel F. Runde with the Center for Strategic and International Studies offers an insightful look at Li’s status as the first Chinese official to be elected the head of a major multilateral organization and his active campaigning for the post . 

While individuals from China have held other senior (i.e., vice/deputy director) positions in major agencies before, Li’s personal and professional background sets him apart from the others, all of whom have had significant ties outside mainland China. … Li, in contrast, has no previous experience with a foreign company, organization, or educational institution, making him unique among Chinese multilateral leaders.

In the lead-up to the election, China promoted Li in a systematic manner reminiscent of full-scale political campaigns. Li’s official public relations video proposed a five-pillar strategy for the agency, involving expanding partnerships, aligning the UNIDO agenda with the post-2015 round of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), strengthening management, and motivating staff. On June 14, he outlined his vision for UNIDO at the agency’s High Level Conference of Middle-Income Countries in Costa Rica. Overall, Li ran a much more organized campaign than did any of his competitors, benefiting from extensive support from the Chinese government and swaying voters through active engagement. 

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About Tony Fleming

Tony is a communications and advocacy professional with over 15 years experience in United Nations reform advocacy. He began blogging about multilateral elections in 2006 at UNSG.org. He and his wife currently live in Panajachel, Guatemala. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.