Issue 141 - May 27 - General Assembly Expected to Elect Joseph Deiss as President on June 11

New York, May 27, 2010 - The UN General Assembly will meet on Friday, June 11, to elect the President of its 65th Session. Joseph Deiss of Switzerland is expected to be elected. Deiss was chosen as the candidate of the Group of Western European and Other States (WEOG) in December 2009. 

Deiss has served as the Federal Councillor for Switzerland's Department of Foreign Affairs, during which time he led the accession of Switzerland to the UN.

The post of GA President rotates between the five UN regional groups. The region whose turn it is identifies a nominee, putting forward just one name to the General Assembly. The GA, then, elects the person, typically by acclamation (i.e. without a vote).

This is the second time in a row that WEOG's selection of a candidate for GA President has been competitive. In 2009, two members of WEOG put forward candidates - in addition to Switzerland's nomination of Mr. Deiss, Belgium nominated Mr. Louis Michel, its former foreign minister.

The GA's 65th Session will run from September 14, 2010 until September 13, 2011.

Mr. Deiss will succeed Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki of Libya, elected last year after endorsement by the Group of African States. 

This will be the first time for a national of Switzerland to hold the Presidency.

About Joseph Deiss

Deiss has served on the Swiss Federal Council in several key positions. He was the Federal Councillor for the Department of Foreign Affairs (Minister of Foreign Affairs) from 1999-2002.

(The Federal Council of Switzerland is the seven-member executive council which constitutes the government of Switzerland and serves as the collective head of state. The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs serves as Switzerland's ministry of foreign affairs.)

While at the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Deiss "led the successful campaign on Switzerland's accession to the United Nations," said the government's press release. The country joined the UN in late 2002.

From 2003-2006 Deiss headed the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, and he was named President of the Swiss Confederation in 2004.

Selection Process

The GA elects its President (PGA) on an annual basis.

Regional Rotation

The GA's Rules of Procedure stipulate that the body elects its President with "regard...for equitable geographical rotation of [the] office among the regions." Accordingly, the selection process follows regional rotation, in the following order:

  • Eastern Europe
  • Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC)
  • Africa
  • Western Europe and Others (WEOG)
  • Asia

As a matter of practice (but not formal rule), the President may not be a national of any of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council.

With Africa having selected the current PGA, it was WEOG's turn to select a President.

Nomination

The election of the GA President is typically non-competitive, as most regions operate on a "first come, first served" basis.

WEOG is an exception to that rule, however. After one country announces interest in a post, others may still come forward. This practice means that the Group may have a competitive process to select its nominee. The last time WEOG held the post was during the GA's 60th Session (2005-2006). Canada, Liechtenstein, and Sweden all nominated candidates, with Jan Eliasson of Sweden being elected.

An unwritten agreement says that that GA Presidents from WEOG will alternate between EU members and the others. Of WEOG's 28 members, 16 are members of the European Union. The others include the U.S. and Canada, Israel, Australia and New Zealand, and several smaller European countries.

As the previous WEOG President was from Sweden, an EU member, some considered it the turn of a non-EU member this year.

Belgium, a European Union member, announced its interest in the position in early 2007 but did not name a nominee. Then on September 17, 2009, Switzerland announced Deiss' candidacy. The next day, former Belgian foreign minister Louis Michel told a reporter that he was the candidate for his country, thus giving WEOG two candidates between whom to choose a nominee.

WEOG's agreement to nominate Deiss was reached after a round of informal straw polling during the month of December 2009. The Group then met in a closed meeting for a group straw poll December 14, during which Deiss secured more votes than Michel.

The results were confirmed by Switzerland's delegation as well as the spokesperson for the GA president.

Election

The election of the President of the General Assembly is governed by the GA's rules of procedure (Rule 30, as amended by Assembly resolution 56/509 of 8 July 2002 and 58/126 of 19 December 2003).

It is an election by a simple majority of Member States. Whereas there is traditionally only one name presented to the GA for election, however, the decision is taken by acclamation (an announcement followed by clapping) rather than a vote.

When a regional group does not select a single nominee before the GA election (as occurred in the Asian Group in 1991), the GA takes a vote to elect its next President.

Transition

Following GA Resolutions from 2002 and 2003, adopted as part of "revitalizing" the GA, the election must take place at least three months ahead of the start of Session over which the candidate will preside. This timing allows for informal overlap between the outgoing and incoming Presidents.

Treki will hand over the Presidency to his successor on September 14, 2010.

Role of President

The General Assembly's official four-month agenda is presided over by the President, who also oversees any remaining issues to be dealt with in the remainder of the session. The powers of the President are set out in the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly (Rules 35-37).

The President does not vote on General Assembly decisions but has control over all other aspects of the discussions including time limitations for speakers, closure of the list of speakers, suspension and adjournment of debate, and ruling on points of order. In addition to these formal duties the President also has an informal facilitative role to play by consulting bilaterally with delegations to assess differences in position, propose solutions, and build consensus for proposals.

No formal criteria for the President exist in the Charter or the Assembly's Rules of Procedure.

Compensation for the President of the General Assembly is determined by the home Member State, which pays the person a salary. This salary is in addition to the privileges granted to all persons acting in the service of the UN or its member states (per Convention of the Privileges and Immunities of the UN (A/Res/22A (1)) of 13 February 1946).

Coming Up

The expected nominations for the next five years are as follows:

  • 66th GA - Asian States (2011-2012)
  • 67th GA - Eastern Europe (2012-2013)
  • 68th GA - Latin American and Caribbean States (2013-2014)
  • 69th GA - African States (2014-2015)
  • 70th GA - Western European and Other States (2015-2016)

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