14 September 1998
Though the vote will not be cast until late in October, campaigning for the non-permanent
seats of the Security Council has long begun in earnest albeit quietly. The campaign
for one of the five seats up for election on the all-powerful Security Council is
fought with some imagination and innovation. A couple of years ago, according to
Barbara Crossette, the UN correspondent of the New York Times, when Sweden,
was pitching hard for membership, a staid diplomatic party at the elegant Park Avenue
town house of Consul-General Dag Sebastian Ahlanda was interrupted by a blast of
saxophones from the pantry.
A band just off the plane from Stockholm - all women, in black leather -burst into
the dinning room to jazz up the evening.
That was also the year when Portugal put on an extravagant food festival. Diplomats
from many nations went on a junket to Japan and got Japanese watches. Japan, Sweden
and Portugal were elected.
The Security Council has 15 members of which five are permanent, namely the United
States, Britain, China, Russia and France - allies and victors in the second world
war. The 10 remaining places are now held by Bahrain (won with a huge majority of
172 votes), Brazil, Costa Rica, Gabon, Gambia, Japan, Kenya, Portugal, Slovenia and
Sweden and are elected by the General Assembly.
The 10 non-permanent seats are rotated within five geographical regions: five from
Africa and Asia, one from Eastern Europe, two from Latin America and the Caribbean
and two from a hybrid group known as Western Europe and others which includes Canada,
New Zealand and Australia. Rotating terms are for two years, with five seats surrendered
each year so that there is always an overlap.
The Asian caucus has already agreed that when voting takes place in autumn, Malaysia
will succeed Japan whose term is ending. Argentina replaces Costa Rica and African
nations have selected Namibia to take the seat vacated by Kenya.
For us, this is our third time in the council - the first was in 1964, the second
year of the Indonesian confrontation. Our election so enraged President Sukarno he
pulled Indonesia out of the UN. After reconciliation Indonesia, under President Suharto,
rejoined the international organisation and within seven years its Foreign Minister
Adam Malek was elected president of the General Assembly in 1971, the same year communist
China was admitted to the UN replacing "'China" aka Taiwan.
I remember this well because I was a member of the Malaysian delegation headed by
Tun Razak who personally cast Malaysia's vote for Beijing despite strong pressures
from some quarters for us to either vote against admission or abstain.
This autumn Greece, the Netherlands and Canada are competing for the two places reserved
for the hybrid group. Greece surprised sophisticated diplomats when it invited heads
of mission to fly to the ancient country to visit some Olympics sites, listen to
its plan to declare an international truce to mark the 2004 Olympic games, which
the Greeks will host, and then to relax cruising in the Aegean sea.
The more reserved Dutch also had cruised but, alas, it was on the East River on whose
right (left?) bank the UN headquarters is situated. Like others, the Dutch have heard
all the rumours about expensive gifts changing hands and brown envelopes left in
hotel rooms during junkets.
However, the Dutch want to win the poll on their solid record of international works
and do not believe in sweeteners, like Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi
who was twice elected as Umno vice president on the basis of his solid works for