Clark vs Rudd: Battle for UNs top job gets personal

Helen Clark and Kevin Rudd - the battle for the UN's top job appears to be getting personal

Helen Clark and Kevin Rudd - the battle for the UN's top job appears to be getting personal

Once they were allies, presenting a united face on trans-Tasman relations to the world. But the battle between Helen Clark and Kevin Rudd for the United Nation's top job is said to be getting increasingly personal in New York's diplomatic back circles.

Back in New Zealand this week to look after her elderly father, who has been ill, Clark was coy about the prospect of throwing her hat into the ring for the job of UN Secretary General. She was equally tight-lipped about her likely rival, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd.

"I have no idea," Clark said when asked about Rudd's candidacy on Wednesday.

Helen Clark keeping her options open on UN top job
Melanie Burford/Prime

Helen Clark keeping her options open on UN top job

But reports suggest Rudd has been upping the ante against Clark as he seeks to supplant her as the leading "compromise" candidate should a push to install an Eastern European candidate fall over.

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Clark is currently the UN"s number 3 as head of the UN development programme in Manhattan and is regularly touted as a contender for the top job.

But The Australian newspaper reports that Rudd, now based in New York where he is said to be a relentless networker, has dossiers on the strengths and weaknesses of his rivals and may have Clark in his sights. He is said to have referred to Clark as "Helen of Helengrad" and is lobbying countries including the US to back him over Clark.

The UN job falls vacant at the end of this year when Ban Ki Moon steps down.

While Clark is yet to announce her position, Prime Minister John Key has publicly stated New Zealand's support for her candidacy should she decide to stand and countries including Australia have privately pledged their support.

But Australia looks likely to renege on that support, offered by former prime minister Tony Abbott, now that Rudd is weighing up his position. .

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The Australian revealed that Rudd had explicitly canvassed the newspaper's support for his candidacy. In a conservation with The Australian's former editor Chris Mitchell, Rudd detailed a scenario by which he believed the job could fall to a compromise candidate.

"He said he thought the Eastern European candidates would tend to cancel each other out or be vetoed by the Russians and Helen Clark would be the surviving candidate," Mitchell told The Australian.

"He said his relationships with Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop were strong and that if it came down to a run off between himself and Clark they would have to back a former Australian prime minister."

It is widely considered Eastern Europe's "turn" for the UN job, but there is also a push for the UN to select the first woman secretary general in its 70-year history.

Six Eastern European countries have made nominations, including Bulgarian Irina Bokova, Croatian candidate Vesna Pusic and Moldova's Natalia Gherman. Other Eastern European candidates are said to be preparing to enter the race.

Clark is not expected to announce her position till it is clear that none of the Eastern European candidates has the necessary backing to win.

But she said Wednesday the race remained "wide open".

A head of state has not previously held the job, but she did not see that as a problem.

"The member states are very conscious that we live in extremely challenging times ... so I think that minds will be very much on 'what are the set of skills that the member states would like the new Secretary-General to have?'"

"There hasn't been a head of state, there hasn't been a head of Government, there have been a lot of foreign ministers - so there is really no rule around this. It is really what is deemed to be the consensus of member states at the time."

 - Stuff

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