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 the party