Norway, Ireland win UN council seats

Edith M. Lederer

Norway and Ireland have won contested seats on the powerful UN Security Council in a series of UN elections held under dramatically different voting procedures because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the most closely watched race, Canada lost out on Wednesday to the two European countries for two Western seats on the 15-member council.

It was Canada's second consecutive defeat in a bid for a seat and a blow to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In the other contested race, neither Kenya nor Djibouti received the required two-thirds majority in voting in the 193-member General Assembly and Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande announced that a second ballot will be held on Thursday.

In previous years, ambassadors from all UN member states have gathered in its vast chamber to vote by secret ballot, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the world body to adopt new rules.

On Wednesday those rules went into operation - a few ambassadors arriving at the assembly during spaced-out time slots to avoid a large gathering and ensure social distancing.

And instead of voting separately for the next General Assembly president, five new members of the Security Council and 18 new members of the Economic and Social Council, the three elections were held at the same time by secret ballot.

Because of its powers including authorising war and imposing sanctions, winning a seat on the Security Council is considered a pinnacle of achievement for many countries.

It gives them a strong voice on issues of international peace and security ranging from conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Africa and Ukraine to the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and Iran, and attacks by extremist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

Before COVID-19, countries running for Security Council seats often invited ambassadors for lavish visits to their nations, put on dinners and held receptions with entertainments, and sent senior government officials around the globe lobbying for votes. But the pandemic has curtailed all of that since March.

The council has five permanent members - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - and 10 members elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms, with seats allocated to regional groups and five new members elected every year.

In Wednesday's voting, a two-thirds majority of 128 votes was required to win a Western seat and Norway received 130 votes, Ireland got 128 votes and Canada 108 votes.

India ran unopposed for the Asia-Pacific seat and received 184 votes and Mexico ran unopposed for the seat for Latin America and the Caribbean and got 187 votes.

In the other elections, Volkan Bozkir of Turkey was elected president of the 75th session of the General Assembly which begins in September.