New York (CNN)Tired of the U.S. presidential race? Follow another hot contest that will determine who will be the top diplomat of the whole world. The job title: United Nations secretary-general.
The first step in the race began Tuesday, with the early declared candidates taking questions from both the public and members of the U.N. General Assembly.
If you need an election guide, here’s your primer:
You thought the Republican Party primary field was crowded? So far, there are nine official candidates for the United Nations’ top job, but the field is expected to grow.
The very unofficial U.N. rotation of who gets the job next points to Eastern Europe, including the Balkans. Officially declared: A former president of Slovenia, the Montenegro deputy prime minister, a former foreign minister of Macedonia, a former Croatian foreign minister and — just declared Tuesday — a former Serbian foreign minister. Also vying for the position is a former Moldova foreign minister.
Two current leaders of U.N. agencies also are in the running: Irina Bokova of UNESCO, and Helen Clark of the U.N. Development Programme. And rounding out the nine, former U.N. refugees leader Antonio Guterres.
There is major interest in having the first female U.N. secretary-general, and diplomats are buzzing whether German leader Angela Merkel will run for the job.
What does the secretary-general do?
Good question. The secretary-general presides over thousands of staffers and a pyramid of agencies, works to end poverty and misery, and, yes, establish world peace. No army comes with the job though.
Primarily the secretary-general follows the directions of the 15-nation Security Council. If those countries say it’s time to set up a peacekeeping mission in country X, then the SG, as the post is commonly referred to, gets on the case.
Many say the secretary-general should be a kind of “secular Pope.” Your prayers for this field are welcome.
How long do they serve?
History says renewable five-year terms. There’s been some talk of making the length one seven-year term to avoid the secretary-general campaigning for favors with big powers on the Security Council who really do the choosing.
Current Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon got two terms, as did his predecessor Kofi Annan. The U.S. blocked Boutros Boutros-Ghali from a second term.
What challenges await the next U.N. leader?
Based on the first day of auditions of candidates, nations think the next leader should be ready to appear as a new superhero in a world blockbuster. Questions touched on achieving peace in the Middle East and stopping terrorism in Europe.
The next secretary-general also will have to deal with the disturbing issue of the U.N.’s own peacekeepers accused in dozens of sexual abuse cases from Africa to Haiti.
When is the vote and what is the process?
The U.N. Security Council will make a “recommendation” of a candidate to the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, which usually doesn’t do a public vote, but consensus applause. The five permanent countries in the council hold a veto. So if they don’t like a candidate, forget it.
The council will start taking informal “straw polls” in closed meetings. Candidates who don’t do well will get the hint. Look for the Security Council to make its pick in September, with the winner probably declared in October. The winner’s term would begin January 1, 2017.
What’s different this year?
Council diplomats say they want to make a unanimous recommendation to give the potential next secretary-general a solid boost. What’s different this year is that the larger U.N. General Assembly has demanded much more of a role in the process. Tired of the big powers deciding who is the next secretary-general, a town hall system of candidates taking questions from countries has begun. Video questions from the public are part of the show.