Why not Michelle Bachelet? The Chilean has got everything that is necessary for the un’s top job

#ItsYourUN > Meinung und Kommentar > Why not Michelle Bachelet? The Chilean has got everything that is necessary for the un’s top job

The Bre­x­it in Gre­at Bri­tain has recent­ly shown, in an alar­ming way, how cru­ci­al cha­ris­ma­tic per­so­na­li­ties can be: Not only con­tents and the con­vin­cing argu­ment mat­ter in poli­ti­cal deba­tes, but just as much the per­sons invol­ved. Ever­ything comes down to their power of attrac­tion, their rhe­to­ri­cal talent, and their degree of sym­pa­thy.

At the UN it is also high time to place a per­son with ten­si­le force again back onto the top of the world orga­ni­za­ti­on. The Bre­x­it has, with unrelen­ting hard­ness, fur­ther demons­tra­ted that our inter­na­tio­nal sys­tem, which evol­ved and ripe­ned steadi­ly sin­ce World War II, is not safe for eter­ni­ty.

UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet at the commemoration of International Women's Day  UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet speaks at the Commemoration of International Women's Day on 8 March 2013 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.   Photo Credit: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina
UN Women Exe­cu­ti­ve Direc­tor Michel­le Bache­let at the com­me­mo­ra­ti­on of Inter­na­tio­nal Women’s Day
UN Women Exe­cu­ti­ve Direc­tor Michel­le Bache­let speaks at the Com­me­mo­ra­ti­on of Inter­na­tio­nal Women’s Day on 8 March 2013 at the United Nati­ons Head­quar­ters in New York.
Pho­to Credit: UN Women/Catianne Tije­ri­na

The “fati­gue” regar­ding inter­na­tio­nal and supra­na­tio­nal orga­ni­za­ti­ons is per­cep­ti­ble ever­y­whe­re. And it is gro­wing. Its dest­ruc­tive force will also not – even in the case of doubt – stall befo­re the United Nati­ons. In the best case sce­n­a­rio it would push the world orga­ni­za­ti­on com­ple­te­ly into insi­gni­fi­can­ce or, if the worst hap­pens, set off a wave of with­dra­wals the­re as well. To avo­id that the­se kinds of thoughts beco­me part of elec­tion cam­pai­gns, it is all the more important to appoint a lea­der as the next UN Secreta­ry-Gene­ral who is com­pe­tent, inspi­red by the UN, and cha­ris­ma­tic. After 70 years and eight men it is now final­ly time for a woman.

Unsatisfactory List of Candidates

Loo­king at the list of the offi­ci­al nomi­na­ti­ons – cur­r­ent­ly ele­ven – one can­not be satis­fied with the selec­tion so far. Surely the­re are eupho­nious names like Helen Clark, long­time Prime Minis­ter of New Zea­land, and Antó­nio Guter­res, for­mer Prime Minis­ter of Por­tu­gal, among the nomi­nees. Howe­ver, the list inclu­des also names bare­ly known, as for instan­ce Nata­lia Gher­man from Mol­d­o­va or Vuk Jere­mi? from Ser­bia.

Sin­ce it is sup­po­sed­ly Eas­tern Europe‘s turn this time to come for­ward with the next UN Secreta­ry-Gene­ral, Clark and Guter­res would be out of the race a prio­ri if this cri­ter­ion found strict app­li­ca­ti­on. And for both it is qui­te uncer­tain whe­ther they would recei­ve the necessa­ry sup­port wit­hin the UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil. Clark has the repu­ta­ti­on of being a strident woman which would apt to the cur­rent world situa­ti­on. Howe­ver, whe­ther she can score at win­ning over the decisi­on makers of the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil is ques­tion­ab­le. Guter­res, on the other hand, is regar­ded as tired out after ten years in the stre­nuous posi­ti­on as the UN High Com­mis­sio­ner for Refu­gees.

Thus, one pro­mi­nent name is mis­sing on that list: the one of Michel­le Bache­let. She is not from Eas­tern Euro­pe, but the Chi­le­an brings in all pre­con­di­ti­ons to beco­me a good Secreta­ry-Gene­ral and – which is just as important – to win the favor of the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil. Her bio­gra­phy con­tains some­thing for ever­y­bo­dy. To begin with the obvious: She is a woman – that alo­ne is a good argu­ment in Wes­tern capi­tals, e.g. Washing­ton, D.C., Lon­don, and Paris. Fur­ther­mo­re, it is said, that she is even fri­ends with Hil­la­ry Clin­ton. Depen­ding on the out­co­me of the elec­tion cam­pai­gn in the USA this would be a weigh­ty con­nec­tion. During her time as For­eign Minis­ter Clin­ton had alle­ged­ly had signi­fi­cant influ­ence on Bachelet‘s appoint­ment as first Exe­cu­ti­ve Direc­tor of UN Women in 2011.

To Moscow’s and Bejing’s Pleasure

Poli­ti­cal­ly, Bache­let belongs to the Chi­le­an socia­lists; alt­hough accord­ing to our under­stan­ding her opi­ni­ons would rather be descri­bed as soci­al-demo­cra­tic. Due to old tra­di­ti­ons the label “socia­list” might evo­ke sym­pa­thies in Rus­sia, which would be signi­fi­cant during this elec­tion becau­se of the offi­ci­al-unof­fi­ci­al access rights of Eas­tern Euro­pe. Fur­ther­mo­re, Bache­let, who was expel­led from her home coun­try during the tur­moil of the Pino­chet dic­ta­tor­ship, had lived in the GDR for a few years and stu­di­ed at the Hum­boldt Uni­ver­si­ty in Ber­lin. This is ano­t­her rea­son, why Moscow – and Bei­jing – should be dis­po­sed towards her.

Being a trai­ned phy­si­ci­an Bache­let does not belong to the genus of sleek diplo­mats or smart eco­no­mists with Wes­tern socia­li­za­ti­on – this could be ano­t­her advan­ta­ge for her in Bei­jing and Moscow. After all, she has gathe­red expe­ri­en­ces regar­ding “hard poli­cy issu­es”: long befo­re Ursu­la von der Ley­en it was Bache­let who beca­me the first fema­le Defen­se Minis­ter of Latin Ame­ri­ca in 2002. She ful­fil­led her obli­ga­ti­ons in this posi­ti­on so suc­cess­ful­ly that she was elec­ted the first fema­le pre­si­dent of her coun­try in 2006. As Chile’s con­sti­tu­ti­on pro­hi­bits a second legis­la­ti­ve peri­od Bache­let reti­red and trans­fer­red to the United Nati­ons after the end of her pre­si­den­ti­al term in 2010. The­re she beca­me Exe­cu­ti­ve Direc­tor of the new­ly foun­ded UN Women befo­re taking over the pre­si­den­ti­al office of her home coun­try for second term in 2014.

With this mix­tu­re of hard and soft topics – she had also been Minis­ter of Health – she excel­lent­ly fits into the “port­fo­lio” of the United Nati­ons, which, on the one hand and on qui­te prag­ma­tic poli­ti­cal terms, con­cen­tra­tes on peace forces around the world, and on the other hand, on issu­es in regard to human rights, deve­lop­ment, cli­ma­te pro­tec­tion as well as oppres­sed, poor and under­pri­vi­le­ged peop­le.

Bachelet might have a realistic chance

In short, Bache­let might have a rea­listic chan­ce to win over the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil. Her cur­ri­cu­lum vitae is impres­si­ve­ly diver­se, and at the same time impres­si­ve­ly dif­fe­rent: pionee­ring and uncon­ven­tio­nal. Con­se­quent­ly, it cor­re­sponds with the con­cept of a UN Secreta­ry-Gene­ral one would wish for at the cur­rent sta­te of the world. As of that, smooth yes-say­ers are just as litt­le nee­ded cur­r­ent­ly than stubborn fools. Ins­tead, a per­son with princi­ples AND diplo­ma­tic exper­ti­se is nee­ded, with a clear jus­ti­ce agen­da AND a sen­se for what is fea­si­ble.

Bache­let com­bi­nes all of the­se aspec­ts and, bey­ond that, she is bra­ve. Thus, not least reflec­ted by her pri­va­te life: she is an athe­ist, divorced, has rai­sed three child­ren from two dif­fe­rent men and has been a sin­gle parent for many years. With that she amas­ses all dead­ly sins of catho­lic Chi­le, Bache­let once com­men­ted her unusu­al CV – and, none­theless, mana­ged to being appoin­ted to top posi­ti­ons in her coun­try. That speaks in favor for her power of attrac­tion as a per­son. The fact that she is facing domestic head­wind right now should not belitt­le her over­all balan­ce sheet in the long-term. Ins­tead it could slight­ly stir the fla­mes of her inte­rest to move to New York again.

It is all the more reg­rett­able that Michel­le Bachelet’s name is not yet on the list. Howe­ver, being the pre­si­dent of her coun­try she can­not nomi­na­te herself; that is pro­hi­bi­ted by the diplo­ma­tic com­ment. The­re­fo­re, the call for her app­li­ca­ti­on should sound all the lou­der now. Only a glo­bal wave of sup­port could car­ry her from her pre­si­den­ti­al posi­ti­on in San­tia­go to New York. It would be worth a try. In the end, of cour­se, Michel­le Bache­let might fail in this posi­ti­on as well, but she would bring in a lot more than all the other nomi­nees, to avo­id just that.


Frie­de­ri­ke Bau­er works as free­lan­ce jour­na­list and aut­hor. She lives in Frank­furt am Main and main­ly wri­tes about for­eign- and deve­lop­ment poli­cy and is mem­ber of the edi­to­ri­al com­mit­tee for the jour­nal VEREINTE NATIONEN.

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