Issue 101- June 18 - IAEA Holds Inconclusive Straw Poll, Will Vote for Director General on July 2

New York, June 18, 2009 - On June 9 the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held an informal straw poll as part of the selection process for a new Director General, following an unsuccessful round of voting earlier this year.

The IAEA is an independent agency but reports annually to the United Nations General Assembly. The current head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, will leave the post on November 30, 2009.

The IAEA Board reopened the call for nominations after a March 26-27 vote in which neither candidate (Mr. Yukiya Amano of Japan and Mr. Abdul Samad Minty of South Africa) received the necessary two-thirds majority to be declared the winner.

In April, Amano and Minty were joined by three nominees from Europe:

  • Mr. Luis Echávarri of Spain, head of the Nuclear Energy Agency for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD);
  • Mr. Ernest Petrič of Slovenia, a constitutional judge and his country's former ambassador to the IAEA; and
  • Mr. Jean-Pol Poncelet of Belgium, senior vice-president of the French energy consulting firm Areva, has served as deputy prime minister, defense minister, and energy minister of his country

This month's straw poll was held in preparation for the next round of voting, scheduled for July 2. Informal straw polls are used in various intergovernmental elections to assess support for each candidate and eliminate the weakest candidates, so as to build sufficient support around a single candidate before a formal vote. The candidates will need 24 votes - a two-thirds majority of the 35-member Board - to win the post on July 2.

The results of the straw poll were as follows (see statement of IAEA Board Chair):

  • Mr. Amano - 20 votes
  • Mr. Minty - 11 votes
  • Mr. Echávarri -  4 votes
  • Mr. Petrič - 0 votes
  • Mr. Poncelet - 0 votes

As in the March votes, Mr. Amano (the reported favorite of the United States and other Western governments) was the clear frontrunner but lacked enough support for election. Developing countries, meanwhile, are said to support the second-highest scorer, Mr. Minty.

Mr. Petric may drop out of the race before the July vote, according to Reuters.

If the vote again is inconclusive, repeated rounds will be held to try to build up the necessary majority for one candidate. If deadlock persists after several rounds of voting, Reuters reports that a third call for nominations will be made, in the hope of finding a candidate with sufficient support.

Role of the Director General

The IAEA Board's Provisional Rules of Procedure, as well as the Agency's Statute (Article VII. B), outline the roles and responsibilities of the Director General, who shall:

  • Be responsible for the appointment, organization, and functioning of the staff;
  • Be under the authority of and subject to the control of the Board, and perform his/her duties in accordance with regulations adopted by the Board, as well as be guided by the policy of the Agency;
  • Bring to the Board's notice as a matter of urgency any fact which may require its intervention, in order to enable it to take any necessary action within the scope of its functions; and
  • Act in that capacity at all meetings of the Board, its committees and other subsidiary bodies (at which he or she may make oral or written statements with the approval of the presiding officer), but shall not have the right to vote.

The Director General is appointed for a term of four years, which is renewable.

The next Director General is expected to be responsible for "the highly sensitive nuclear dossiers of Syria and Iran" as well as convincing member governments to increase their budget contributions, according to Nasdaq.

Candidates and Call for Impartiality

All five candidates were nominated by their respective governments. The IAEA has not made their candidature submissions (nomination letters, curricula vitae) available publicly.

The candidates gave presentations at an informal meeting of the IAEA Board on May 26, explaining their views on running the Agency. All five reportedly avoided discussing politically controversial topics including Iran's and Syria's possible proliferation, and North Korea's nuclear test the previous day. Instead, candidates' comments on the role of the Director General emphasized professionalism and political independence, with many highlighting their own bridging, consensus-building qualities.

According to several expert commentators, the key challenge for the IAEA is to resolve the rift between developed and developing country governments, which affects the Agency's ability to carry out its mission. This makes the selection of an independent Director General especially important. The election is said to bear the burden of asserting the Agency's political independence, since "there is a tendency on the part of some powerful countries to impose a marionette figure through which they might conduct the affairs of the agency," and the election has taken on the semblance of an "auction," according to a senior diplomatic source.

Deutsche Welle writes that the 35-member Board has been divided recently, with developed nations, which favor Amano and "are primarily concerned about nuclear proliferation and want a competent technocrat to run the agency" on one side. Minty, on the other hand, is a favorite of developing nations, who are concerned with disarmament of countries with nuclear weapons capabilities and would like to concentrate on clean nuclear technology.

The next Director General must create a culture of compromise to repair the rift between North and South, Deutsche Welle's analysis concludes.

To have the necessary legitimacy for such a task, the person must be seen as impartial, making a break from ElBaradei's reported approach. The Times Online reports that ElBaradei has been criticized for too slowly recognizing the proliferation of many nations, including "Saddam Hussein's early-1980s attempt to acquire nuclear weapons; the ‘supermarket' run by Pakistan's A. Q. Khan; Libya; the Iranian programme; and North Korea's conversion of civil work to military."

Despite all candidates having presented themselves as independent bridge-builders to the Board on May 26, Members still seem divided, judging from the results of last week's straw poll.

Coming Up

Upon a successful election by the Board of Governors (which is selected annually by all 146 Member States), the IAEA's entire membership will meet in the General Conference to approve the appointment.

The next General Conference is scheduled to take place in Vienna, Austria on September 14, 2009.

For media coverage of the selection process, see:

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