prior to the selection year

Informal discussions begin within Member States
and their delegations
regarding potential candidates.

Candidates informally express interest and come forward with intentions to run within their country’s delegation. The General Assembly may issue a letter, resolutions or other documents to provide guidelines that describe the current needs and forward-looking concerns regarding the Secretary-General role and the selection process. This year, the UN is reaffirming its commitment to increase transparency, respect the regional rotation system and promote equal consideration among female and male candidates, while maintaining the requirement to find the best possible candidate.

of the year prior to the selection year

The President of the General Assembly
and the President of the Security Council
issue a joint invitational letter
calling for Member States to nominate candidates.

After informal discussions and drafts, the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council jointly circulate, to all Member States, a letter calling for candidates. Once a Member State officially nominates a candidate, the General Assembly publishes on the UN official website, on an on-going basis, the names of the individuals that have been submitted for consideration.

Regional distribution of the Secretary-General position to date has taken the following order: Western Europe, Asia, Western Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. No Secretary-General has hailed from Eastern Europe. Traditionally, candidates from the Permanent Five members of the Security Council are not considered for the position. Advocacy group reports and other UN documents have recently reasserted the need for Member States to seriously consider female candidates.

of the selection year

Formal and informal discussions between candidates and
Member States begin within the
Security Council and General Assembly (according to the agenda available here.)

The President of the General Assembly is tasked with actively supporting the selection process. Although informal discussions may occur at any time, formal meetings are scheduled with the members of the regional groups as of April of the selection year and can continue until the end of the selection process. Such meetings should allow for sufficient time for interaction with the Member States and for candidates to adequately present their views on key issues. Participation in such discussions or meetings is not required and, in theory, there is no prejudice against candidates who do not participate. This year, the meetings will be open and webcast. An agenda for each meeting will be made available on the UN’s website.

of the selection year

The Security Council discusses
each candidate’s nomination privately,
votes, and issues a recommendation
once nine members vote affirmatively
and no permanent member
has issued a veto.

The Security Council has traditionally only recommended one person for the role, although no procedural rule requires a single recommendation. In years when a number of candidates are being considered, the Security Council will conduct a secret balloting before issuing its recommendation via a resolution. The balloting process was introduced in 1981 when the Security Council began the practice of conducting “straw polls” where Member States could indicate a vote for “encouragement” or “discouragement”. This practice evolved again in 1991 when ballots were colored to show if a permanent member, or an elected member, had initiated the vote. In essence, the color balloting process reduces the need for open discussions, while allowing the Security Council to test the potential candidate’s risk for veto by a permanent member. Rule 55 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council state that any private meetings must issue a communiqué summarizing such meeting. As of 2006, council members can choose to submit “encouragement”, “discouragement” or “no opinion” colored ballots. In years when only one candidate is being considered, the Security Council’s normal practice is to proceed directly, without prior balloting, to adopting a resolution, usually by acclamation. Thus, the selection process in such cases is significantly shorter.

Private and public conversations between the President of the General Assembly and the President of the Security Council occur that consider the candidates’ profiles. Eventually, they set a date for a vote to take place within the Security Council. In order for a nomination to pass, nine members must vote affirmatively and no permanent members must have vetoed the candidate. In the event that a permanent member vetoes and blocks a candidate, the discussion and voting process begins again until a candidate successfully obtains the requisite votes.

Once a vote is passed, the Security Council President issues a resolution or a letter informing the General Assembly President of the person(s) and the term of office it recommends for the role. The duration of the term is decided on a case-by-case basis, although absent extenuating circumstances, the consistent practice has been to recommend a five-year term.

of the selection year

The President of the Security Council
announces its recommendation
to the press.

of the Security Council’s recommendation

The General Assembly votes
on the recommendation and appoints
the Secretary-General in a Resolution.

The General Assembly reviews the recommended candidate’s qualifications and initiates private discussions culminating in a ballot vote, which according to procedural rules should be conducted in secret. Since the appointment is considered an “important question” under the General Assembly’s procedural code, two-thirds of the members must vote affirmatively for the nomination to pass. In practice, this vote is not conducted in a private meeting and instead occurs during an open session, albeit with little or no discussion.

of the year following the selection year
(On the date on which the incumbent’s term expires)

The new Secretary-General is inaugurated into office.

The inauguration of the new Secretary-General should take place no later than one month before the date on which the incumbent’s term expires.

Disclaimer: This timeline summarizes the Secretary-General selection process historically and offers approximate dates and procedures based on what has occurred during previous selection processes. There is on-going debate within the UN regarding the formalization of such a timeline and, to date, very few UN documents exist that provide definitive guidance on how and when each step of the selection process should be conducted.