Clark could be up for top UN job

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 11:01 28/01/2014
clark landscape
HAMAD I MOHAMMED / Reuters

Helen Clark, seen during a November news conference in Bahrain, has opened up about her life to the Guardian newspaper.

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Speculation is mounting Helen Clark could be the next leader of the United Nations, with British newspaper The Guardian profiling her as a likely contender.

The former New Zealand prime minister is already the third-most powerful person at the UN, in charge of the United Nations Development Programme.

She is now in her second term at the head of the programme and has championed the rights of women to hold such offices alongside international and humanitarian issues among developing nations.

In an interview with The Guardian, Clark has opened up about her early years in politics - from at one point considering quitting, to her decision not to have children.

Clark was New Zealand's first elected female prime minister and went on to lead the country for three consecutive terms.

After losing the election to John Key in 2008 she took up her posting at the UN.

But she revealed she did come close to quitting at the start of her Labour party leadership when her personal poll rating was just 2 per cent.

Friends told her "You've just got to keep standing there", which was the best advice.

"If you keep standing, actually very few will come after you," she said.

Clark told the Guardian she decided early on to ignore much of the criticism of her gender.

Some of those claims included then-National Party leader Don Brash saying he thought it was impolite to interrupt a woman after losing out to Clark during a 2005 leaders debate.

Political opponents of that era also speculated whether Clark's marriage was one of political convenience.

"You have to be able to dismiss it, and I seem to have developed a style, where [journalists] always knew that I'd get to a point and say 'move on', you know, 'get over it'," she said.

Clark also touched on her decision not to have children. Elected to Parliament aged 31, she said it was the best decision for her and husband academic Peter Davis.

"It just would have been totally impractical without a spouse who was prepared to completely give up a career," she said.

The pair have been married 34 years.

On the chance of Clark claiming the top chair at the UN, The Guardian wrote Clark had "many points in her favour".

" ... Not least her present job and the fact New Zealand was part of the quaintly named Weog group (Western Europe and Other Group, but essentially it means the old developed countries)."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is in his second term in the role.

Secretaries-general serve for five-year terms that can be renewed indefinitely, but none have so far gone beyond two terms.

The selection process is generally carried out behind closed doors, and each of the five permanent members of the security council also have veto powers on the selection.

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Ban has almost two years left on his second term, though discussions for a change in leadership or re-election of an incumbent can take longer than two years to play out.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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