Poll Shows S. Korea's Ban Ki-Moon Front Runner to Succeed Kofi Annan

South Korea's foreign minister kept his spot as the favorite in the race to succeed U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in an informal poll Thursday, the only one among the seven candidates to get the needed majority of votes.

Ban Ki-Moon received 13 votes in favor, one against and one of no opinion, China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said. He slipped slightly from the previous poll, held Sept. 14, when he received 14 votes in favor and one against.

Despite that dominating lead, the secrecy of the ballot meant no one knows whether he got the necessary approval of all five veto-wielding members of the council. The ballot is also difficult to interpret: The results could give Ban the momentum he needs to win or clear the field for more people to enter the race.

The 15 council nations checked one of three boxes for each candidate: "Encourage," "discourage," and "no opinion." None of the six other candidates even got the necessary nine favorable votes to make their campaigns viable.

As with the previous two polls, Shashi Tharoor, the Indian U.N. undersecretary-general, was second, with eight council members in favor, three against and four undecided. Latvia's President Vaira Vike-Freiberga was third with seven in favor, six against and two undecided.

Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, who was the first to announce his candidacy last year, received five favorable votes and seven against, worse than last time and likely the result of a coup back home.

The other three candidates — former U.N. disarmament chief Jayantha Dhanapala, Jordan's U.N. Ambassador Prince Zeid al Hussein and former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani — received only three votes in favor.

So far there was no indication that anyone would drop out of the race. Thailand's U.N. ambassador, Laxanachantorn Laohaphan, said Surakiart would not withdraw, and Ghani said in an interview that his campaign would continue.

"In the past, there have been all kinds of indications from the council that have not proven right," Ghani told The AP. "One cannot read the council from the outside."

Diplomats generally agree that the next secretary-general should come from Asia because of a tradition that the post rotate among regions of the world. The last Asian secretary-general was Burma's U Thant, who served from 1961-71.

Annan steps down on Dec. 31, when his second five-year term expires. Diplomats have said they want the race wrapped up by the end of October so the next secretary-general can have time to prepare for the job.

In the next straw poll, set for Monday, the five veto-wielding members of the council will use different colored ballots than the other 10. A veto from one of the five — Britain, China, France, Russia or the United States — could doom their campaigns.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said he would have preferred the colored ballots Thursday.

"We should have had a differentiated ballot today," Bolton said in a statement. "I look forward to a real vote on Monday, when we'll have two different colored ballots.

Bangladesh's U.N. Ambassador Iftekhar Chowdhury said he attended a speech Ban gave on Wednesday and approved.

"He came out quite good — mature, balanced, and with the right amount of experience, gravitas, the qualities that you seek in a secretary-general," Chowdhury said. "We think he'll make an excellent secretary-general, of course."