Antonio Guterres appointed new UN secretary general

He was nominated unopposed after deliberations in the United Nations Security Council.

Antonio Guterres. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - The United Nations General Assembly has now elected Antonio Guterres as the new United Nations secretary general.

He was nominated unopposed after deliberations in the United Nations Security Council.

Guterres, 67, replace Ban Ki-moon, 72, of South Korea, who will step down at the end of 2016 after serving two terms. Guterres was prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002.

The council had been holding informal secret ballots since July in a bid to reach consensus on a candidate. Members had the choices encourage, discourage or no opinion.

Thirteen people were nominated in the race to become the next UN chief, but three had already withdrawn before last week Wednesday's secret ballot. In a bid for more transparency in the opaque selection process, the candidates were for the first time able to make election campaign-style pitches to the General Assembly.

When Guterres spoke to the General Assembly in April, he said he was a candidate to become secretary-general because "the best place to address the root cause of human suffering is at the center of the UN system." He spoke in English, French and Spanish during the two-hour long town hall meeting.

Guterres, a devout Catholic, spoke about his decade as the UN refugee chief as "an extraordinary privilege but a terrible frustration because there was no humanitarian solution for their plight." He said the solution was always political.

He described a UN chief as "acting with humility, without arrogance, without giving lessons to anybody, but working as a convener, as a facilitator, as a catalyst and behaving like an honest broker, a bridge builder and a messenger for peace."

Seven of the candidates for secretary-general were women amid a push by civil society groups and a third of the 193 UN member states for the first female UN chief in the 71-year history of the world body, which has had eight male leaders.

The WomanSG lobby group described the win by Guterres as "a disaster for equal rights and gender equality" and said it was an outrage that it appeared the female candidates were "never seriously considered."

In April, Guterres pledged to present a roadmap for gender parity at all levels of the United Nations if elected.

Additional reporting by Reuters.