Helen Clark, next UN secretary-general?

06:19, Jan 28 2014
clark landscape
Helen Clark, seen during a November news conference in Bahrain, has opened up about her life to the Guardian newspaper.

Speculation Helen Clark could be the next leader of the United Nations is picking up steam, with British paper 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. 

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Helen Clark with Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, in November.

In an interview with the Guardian, Clark has opened up about her early years in politics - which at one point, forced her to consider quitting - to her decision not to have children. 

Clark was New Zealand's first elected female Prime Minister and went on to lead for three consecutive terms - a so far unmatched feat. 

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 of hers said: "You've just got to keep standing there', which was the best advice. If you keep standing, actually very few will come after you."

Clark told reporter Jane Martinson she decided early on to ignore much of the criticism of her sex.

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." 

The pair have been married 34 years.

On her likelihood to claim the top chair at the UN, Martinson wrote Clark had "many points in her favour".

"... Not least her current job and the fact that New Zealand is part of the amusingly 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 so far have exceeded holding office for more than 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.

Ban Ki-Moon has close to 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 Media