Latvian Candidate for Top U.N. Job Slams 'All-Boys Club'

Latvia's president acknowledged Monday that her bid to become the next U.N. secretary-general is a long shot, but she said women must break into the "all-boys club" that has dominated the selection of the U.N. chief for the last 60 years.

Vaira Vike-Freiberga's candidacy, announced over the weekend, would seem to stand little chance because two veto-wielding members of the Security Council, China and Russia, are opposed. China is determined to see an Asian win the job, and Russia's relations with Latvia and the other two Baltic states have been tense since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"If I was a betting person, I would not bet my life savings on it, but you've got to realize that everything is possible," she said.

The 68-year-old former psychology professor said women must be represented among the formal candidates to replace Kofi Annan on Jan. 1. The five other candidates are all Asian and all men.

"The point is there should be a choice," she said, speaking in fluent English at a news conference. "To have the doors open and then go ahead, enter the competition, enter the fray, see where the chips may fall but not give up before you've started."

Latvia and the other two Baltic states — Estonia and Lithuania — proposed Vike-Freiberga's candidacy on Friday.

Her news conference Monday was timed with the annual debate of the General Assembly, which begins Tuesday. All the candidates to replace Annan are likely to use the gathering to campaign vigorously.

Vike-Freiberga faces an uphill struggle because most members states generally agree that the next secretary-general should come from Asia, part of a tradition to rotate the job between regions. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, however, has argued that the job should go to the best qualified candidate regardless of nationality.

The security-general is named by the 192-nation General Assembly based upon the recommendation of the 15-nation Security Council. But many diplomats and experts say the process is too vague and is a bad way to fill one of the highest-profile jobs on the planet.

Vike-Freiberga argued for more openness in the process of selecting a secretary-general.

"I think that too many women in too many ways have allowed themselves to be discouraged by the knowledge that there are all-boys clubs operating, that the boys get together, that they make deals," Vike-Freiberga said.

Vike-Freiberga has led the Baltic country since 1999. She has been working for more than a year as Annan's special envoy for United Nations reforms.

The other candidates to succeed Annan, whose term expires on Dec. 31, are South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, U.N. undersecretary-general for public affairs Shashi Tharoor of India, Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, former U.N. disarmament chief Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka and Jordan's U.N. Ambassador Prince Zeid al Hussein, the only Muslim candidate.