Why Helen Clark needs to be Secretary General


On Wednesday, New Zealand Time, former Prime Minister Helen Clark participated in a debate among the leading candidates for the United Nations Secretary General role. This role, currently held by Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea, is vacant from November when he steps down at the end of his second five year tenure. Mr Ki-Moon leaves the United Nations in a considerably better shape than the one he inherited in 2006 from his predecessor Kofi Annan. As the United Nations prepares for a new Secretary General, how does Ms Clark shape up and who are her challengers?

Before she became head of the United Nations Development Programme, Ms Clark assembled a formidable record of governance in New Zealand politics, that includes:

  • Member of Parliament for Mount Albert, 1981-1996 and 1999-2009
  • Minister of Housing , 1987-1989
  • Minister of Conservation, 1987-1989
  • Minister of Health, 1989-1990
  • Deputy Leader New Zealand Labour Party, 1989-1993
  • Leader of the Opposition, 1993-1999
  • Leader of New Zealand Labour Party, 1993-2008
  • Prime Minister of New Zealand, 1999-2008
  • Minister overseeing intelligence agencies N.Z.S.I.S. and G.C.S.B., 1999-2008

During the years that Ms Clark was Prime Minister of New Zealand, the country enjoyed particularly high ratings in the Transparency International index, where only Denmark, Sweden and Norway were considered to have more transparent government. During the same time, her stable governance ensured that the fifth Labour Zealand Government ran a surplus every one of the nine years it was in office. Her skill at negotiating deals with other parties ensured that despite a hung Parliament in 2005, a centre-left Government was able to form with assistance from United Future and New Zealand First.

Ms Clark has several potent challengers, which include former Foreign Affairs ministers and climate change ministers for various countries. They also include current U.N.E.S.C.O. Director General Irina Bokova and former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees/former Portugese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres.

The vision Ms Clark has for the United Nations is consistent with general ideas New Zealand has about reforming the organization and improving the transparency of its organs. She understands the need to ensure that United Nations Peace Keepers fulfill their mandate and that any abuse by the Peace Keepers is reported and acted on. About existing conflicts, Ms Clark said that the world needs to get better at anticipating conflicts, so that they can be better prevented from starting in the first place and has issued a call for societies to be more inclusive, instead of exclusive.

The New Zealand Government has put aside political differences to support Ms Clark’s bid for the Secretary General role. She has high respect among United Nations Permanent Five members on the Security Council, though they are not required to recognize any candidate that is particularly popular among the General Assembly nations. It will be a good day for New Zealand, for women and the United Nations at large if they were to elect Ms Clark to be Secretary General.

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