UNITED NATIONS, July 22 (APP): The former head of the  U.N. refugee agency has emerged as a front-runner in the race to  become the next U.N. secretary-general after a secret vote in  the Security Council, according to diplomatic sources.

Antonio Guterres, also Portugal’s former Prime Minister,
is leading a pack of 12 candidates, receiving 12 of a potential 15  votes to succeed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose term expires  at the end of this year.

Former Slovenian President Danilo Turk was second following
a “straw poll”. The vote was held in council chambers, and no  results were officially released.

A second straw poll may be held next week.

Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, director-general of U.N.
cultural organization UNESCO came in third, edging out
former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic and former
Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim, who tied for fourth.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who heads
the U.N. Development Programme, was fifth, followed by
Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, Argentinian Foreign
Minister Susana Malcorra, and former U.N. climate chief
Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica.

Moldova’s former foreign minister, Natalia Gherman, was in
10th place, followed by Montenegro Foreign Minister Igor Luksic  and former Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic.

The 193-member U.N. General Assembly this year has sought to lift  a veil of secrecy that has surrounded the election of the U.N. chief  for the past 70 years by requiring public nominations  and holding campaign-style town hall events with each candidate.

After the polling was concluded, Portugal’s Foreign
Minister Augusto Santo Silva welcomed the outcome, telling
reporters it provides “clear incentive to Mr. Guterres’
candidature and confirms that he is particularly qualified for the position of Secretary General.”

The secrecy surrounding the vote – the 15-member Council
did not release the results of the straw poll – angered U.N.
envoys who had been pressing for greater openness in the
process of selecting the secretary-general. Lykketoft – who was  hosted a series of unprecedented public meetings in the
General Assembly with the candidates – criticized
the Security Council’s discretion.

“In my view, limiting the communication to the fact that
the informal straw poll has taken place without any further
detail adds little value and does not live up to the expectations  of the membership and the new standard of openness and  transparency,” he said.