Issue 39 - November 14 - Analysis of Security Council Elections, Open Letter to UN Member States

New York, November 14, 2007 - This year's elections for UN Security Council members for 2008-2009 proceeded quickly, with only two out of the five seats actually being contested. In the aftermath of the elections the losing candidate from one region implied that its loss was due to insufficient development aid, highlighting the need to expose and end the practices of corruptive practices in UN elections. The UNelections Campaign recently sent an open letter to UN Member States asking them not to engage in vote trading or any other reciprocal arrangements for Security Council seats.

Three of Five Seats Pre-determined

In two regions - Africa and Asia - the regional groups agreed to endorse candidates beforehand so that votes in the General Assembly would not be the deciding factor in the election on October 16. The arrangements led to the quick election of Burkina Faso, Libya, and Vietnam. In each of the other two regions with open seats - Eastern Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) - two candidates competed for one seat. Croatia and Costa Rica, respectively, were elected after the second round.

In addition to formal support from their respective regions (in the case of Africa and Asia), various candidates also obtained pre-arranged support from other Member States. We are aware of a few specific cases of vote-trading for seats on the UN Security Council and other bodies. Undoubtedly, many more took place. In some cases, governments exchange votes for seats on the Security Council in different years. In other cases, States exchange a promise of support for the Security Council with support for election to a different body, such as the Human Rights Council. 

During its campaign for the LAC seat, the Dominican Republic reportedly offered weekend trips to its luxury beach resorts, hosted a food festival, and held a salsa party at UN headquarters. This apparently contrasts with past years' campaigns of even more luxurious gifts and trips. Reportedly Costa Rica, however, offered "nothing but its record at the UN."

The contest between Croatia and the Czech Republic for the Eastern European seat also ended after two rounds of voting. A range of explanations has been offered for Czech's early withdrawal.

Varying Explanations for EE Results

The unusually early withdrawal from the election by the Czech Republic has prompted various analyses and explanations. 

Official reasons

The government's stated reasons for the withdrawal, per mission sources:

  • The Czech Republic received many fewer votes in the second round than in the first (in the first round, Croatia had only five points more than Czech, but in the second round, Croatia received 108, 22 points over Czech's 86).
  • The head of the Czech delegation for the election, the country's First Deputy Minister, wanted to avoid protracted voting. The country's ambassador to the UN said that they "wanted to end it in a gentlemanly manner" and not "block" Croatia.
  • It was a tight competition, and the voting easily could have gone either way. The Czech Republic intended either to have the lead in the first round, or to withdraw.  
  • Croatia had never been a member of the Security Council, whereas the Czech Republic has held a seat four times. Czech Permanent Representative Martin Palouš suggested in a media report that as many as all of the States that had never had a seat may have voted for Croatia in hopes that they could be elected in the future.
  • A forthcoming report from the Czech Foreign Affairs Ministry will analyze the campaign and reasons for the outcome.

Comments by Czech Prime Minister

According to media reports, Czech PM Mirek Topolánek gave the following possible reasons for their defeat:

  • His country "gave too little presents." Now that the election had been lost, he said, "we must reconsider our development and humanitarian support. It is impossible to send tens of millions of crowns somewhere, while the country listens to our rival." When asked about this comment, the Czech delegation to the UN said that the country's development assistance was not used as a political tool or based on the principle that recipient countries should be loyal to donors.
  • The government takes an "uncompromising attitude" towards human rights, which could have affected the votes from countries with poor human rights records. The Czech government recently criticized governments such as Iran, Burma, and Cuba.
  • Czech would have held both a Security Council seat and the presidency of the European Union at the same time, in the first half of 2009. Before the election a Czech official argued that simultaneous Council membership and EU presidency would be beneficial for both bodies, because the EU presidency would "add weight to the Czech voice" in the Council, and Council membership could result in better information being brought to the EU. After the election, however, he noted that the simultaneous timing of the two positions might have harmed the Czech candidacy, as some countries might see the Council as having too strong a presence from the EU.

Comments from Czech opposition party

The explanations from the country's main opposition party, CSSD, were different.

  • In its view the Prime Minister's attitude towards developing countries led to weak support in the election.
  • The CSSD also argued that Topolanek and other high-level officials interfered in the foreign minister's activities.
  • Another explanation was that the Czech Republic based its foreign policy on the US government's policies, which led other countries to exclude Czech from the Council.

Other observations from a range of sources

  • President Václav Klaus recently had given a speech at the UN in which he questioned the theory of global warming. A European Parliament official suggested that the speech displeased coastally-located developing countries.
  • Croatia made good use of its connection to the former Yugoslavia's tradition within the Non-aligned Movement (NAM), which may have led to greater support from NAM members.
  • The timing of the campaign may have been a problem for Czech Republic. Their campaign started in 2003 under a CSSD administration. When Prime Minister Topolanek came to power he reportedly opposed to the effort at first. Eventually the campaign "stagnated due to a domestic political debate," the Prague Post reports, while Croatia actively lobbied for the seat for four years.

Vote-trading Explained by UN Sources

Delegates to the UN have explained to that it is "usual business" to base votes for the Security Council, Human Rights Council, and other bodies and posts not on shared positions on political issues, but on exchanges of support.

A candidate cannot rely on every country's assurances of support for its candidature, however. Candidates thus tend to "deduct a percentage" off of the promises they have received, knowing that some countries - especially small countries with small missions - cannot support every candidate they promise to. The tradeoffs made in the course of campaigning determine each country's vote. The level of contact between governments can also have an effect. For example, if the countries' heads of state do not manage to hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the General Assembly's opening session (high-level debate, general debate, etc.), a guarantee of support may not be possible.

For Security Council elections, the current trend is for countries to declare their candidatures five to ten years in advance, and sometimes earlier. For example, the seat for the Group of Western European and Other States in 2021 is already being contested. Although it would be impossible for voting members in the GA to predict how a given country's government will be performing so far in advance, commitments are indeed secured.

Open Letter to UN Member States on Vote-trading

Regarding the reports of vote-trading and concerns about the integrity of the Security Council, sent a letter to all UN Permanent Representatives on October 15 (see attached).

In the letter, WFM-IGP's Executive Director, William Pace, called on all governments to: 1) Condemn the negative aspects of vote-trading that occur in the election of governments to the Security Council; and 2) Publicly advocate for a qualifications-based process more in keeping with the UN Charter, without sacrificing the values of equality and regional representation.

The regional practice of pre-selecting candidates denies the broader membership the ability to vote in a competitive election and ensure the success of qualified and legitimate candidates, the letter asserts. Further, vote-trading agreements for Security Council membership not only undermine this principal organ but cascade into bad elections and selections throughout the UN system, and of course result in bad decisions in the Council. In closing, Pace asks, "Will you or your government - will any government - raise its voice against this travesty?"

In the News: UN Elections and Appointments