South Korea Foreign Minister Emerges as Frontrunner in U.N. Secretary-General Race

South Korea Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon cemented his position Monday as the front-runner to succeed U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, chalking up an important vote of confidence in an informal U.N. Security Council vote.

Ban was the only candidate out of six who did not receive a negative vote from the Security Counil's five permanent and 10 elected members.

The council has scheduled an Oct. 9 vote to formally choose its candidate to become the eighth secretary-general in the United Nations' 60-year history. The Security Council's selection must then go before the 192-nation General Assembly, which traditionally approves council recommendations without protest.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said diplomats agreed to the date to candidates could decide to drop out if they want to.

"We're very pleased with the outcome here, very pleased," Bolton said.

"It is quite clear that from today's straw poll that Minister Ban Ki-Moon is the candidate that the Security Council will recommend to the General Assembly," China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said.

The 15 council nations checked one of three boxes for each candidate: "Encourage," "discourage," and "no opinion." The ballot was secret except that only the five permanent members of the council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — were given blue ballots to indicate to the candidates whether they could escape a possible veto.

According to the results, Ban received 14 votes in favor and a "no opinion" ballot cast by one of the 10 elected, or rotating members of the council. Every other candidate received at least one veto.

Soon after the results became known, India's Shashi Tharoor, the U.N. undersecretary-general for public information, announced he was stepping down.

"It is clear that he will be our next secretary-general," Tharoor said of Ban.

Tharoor's perspective on the race is a bad sign. He did far better than anyone other than Ban, receiving 10 votes in favor and three against. One of those negative votes was a veto.

Latvia's President Vaira Vike-Freiberga was next with five in favor, six against — including two vetoes — and four undecided votes.

Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, who was the first to announce his candidacy last year, and former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani each received four votes in favor. But Ghani had three vetoes against him and Surakiart two.

The other remaining candidate, Jordan's U.N. Ambassador Prince Zeid al Hussein, had only two votes in favor and eight against, with one veto.

The informal poll is nonbinding and the results could change. During the informal polling in 1996, France consistently vetoed Annan's candidacy before changing its vote in the face of strong council support for the Ghanaian, who was then head of U.N. peacekeeping.

Nonetheless, diplomats seemed confident that Ban would be the winner.

"That is I think a safe bet now — that it will be Ban Ki-Moon," said Bangladesh's U.N. Ambassador Iftekhar Chowdhury.

Ban, 62, is South Korea's minister of foreign affairs and trade. He is a graduate of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and is a career public servant and diplomat. He was instrumental in steering South Korea's presidency of the General Assembly in 2001, immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Ban also has chaired face-to-face talks with North Korea to ban nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.