15 Apr 2016

Helen Clark makes UN pitch for top job

4:40 pm on 15 April 2016

While most New Zealanders were still fast asleep this morning, former prime minister Helen Clark was questioned for two hours about why she should lead the United Nations.

Helen Clark in New York.

UN Development Programme administrator Helen Clark in New York Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Miss Clark is one of nine candidates applying to be the UN Secretary General, and she appeared before the General Assembly in New York this morning to answer questions from the 193 member states of the United Nations.

In the search for a successor to Ban Ki-moon, candidates are this time making campaign-style speeches to the General Assembly in New York as it hopes to influence the private Security Council poll that picks the winner.

Over the past three days, each candidate has given a short presentation to the General Assembly before answering questions from both member states and the public, which were submitted by video.

The public interaction and more involvement by member states is a new move by the UN as it tries to increase the transparency of its processes.

Miss Clark, the Labour Prime Minister from 1999 to 2008, is currently the administrator of the UN Development Programme.

In her opening address, Miss Clark told the UN she learned her core values as a child.

Watch the full presentation here

The President of the United Nations General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, having a word with Helen Clark during questioning.

Miss Clark answering questions from UN member states Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"I grew up on a backcountry farm in New Zealand. There I learned from my parents values which I believe are essential to leadership: being ambitious, but also realistic; and being hardworking and resilient when times are tough."

In response to a webcam question about women's rights, Miss Clark said she had seen some reversal of progress, and would give attention to that if she were to lead the UN.

"My whole life has been one around breaking glass ceilings myself in the hope that other women will also pass through the shards of glass to take their position as full and equal participants in societies, politics, economies.

"So, for sure, for me, these are huge, huge issues."

Miss Clark said coming from New Zealand shaped who she was and what she had to offer.

"I come from a highly culturally diverse country in a region of great diversity.

"I am acutely aware that what the UN does or doesn't do affects the everyday lives of countless millions of people.

'And on that note I want to end with a Māori proverb from my country which says 'He aha te mea nui o te ao? What is the most important thing in the world? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. It is people, it is people, it is people'."

Helen Clark on the big screen at the United Nations General Assembly meeting.

Miss Clark on the big screen at the General Assembly meeting Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Security Council is likely to hold its first "straw poll" - an informal vote - behind closed doors in July and aims to have a decision by September so the General Assembly can elect the next UN chief in October.

Her experience, including 27 years in politics, nine years as prime minister, and most recently her role at the UN Development Programme, makes her an ideal person for the position, she said.

In the presentation, she focused on certain key areas: extreme poverty, conflicts, terrorism, violent extremism, the displacement crisis across continents and climate change.

Serious challenges are now facing the UN and testing its capability to deliver, she said.

"The problems are getting harder to solve, and the opportunities to do so are more difficult to grasp."

Miss Clark was questioned on a number of reoccurring themes, including gender and geographical employment inequality in the UN, the migration crisis across continents, and how she would make the UN a better performing and more relevant organisation, today.

General Assembly president Mogen Lykketoft spoke to our reporter in New York, Jemma Brackebush.

General Assembly president Mogen Lykketoft said there had been unprecedented interest in the campaign to select a new secretary-general. He also said Miss Clark had attracted the biggest audience and most questions of all the candidates. But he would not be drawn on whether she was the strongest candidate.

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