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Mysteries of Article 97

Criticised as byzantine and undemocratic in its secrecy, the procedure for choosing a United Nations Secretary General is an exercise in horse-trading at the highest levels of world diplomacy. Only the election of the Pope equals it in mystery.

What is meant to happen is laid out briefly in Article 97 of the UN Charter. It says that the General Assembly will approve the appointment of a Secretary- General for a renewable five-year term. A single candidate must be recommended to the Assembly beforehand by the Security Council.

Boutros-Ghali's first term expires on 31 December. Thus the Council must soon debate the identity of the next Secretary General. Eventually, it will have to vote on whom to put forward to the Assembly.

Only the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain can exercise a veto. No candidate can survive the selection process if vetoed. Thus if the US blocks Mr Boutros-Ghali, his prospects must be bleak. (He would be the first Secretary-General not given a chance at a second term).

So far, there is only one other declared candidate: Hamid Algabid of Niger, a former head of the Organisation of Islamic Conferences (IOC). Other names mentioned have included: Leticia Shahani, the President of the Senate of the Philippines, Gro Harlem Bruntland, Norway's Prime Minister, Mary Robinson, President of Ireland, Sadako Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian UN peacekeeping official.