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United Nations (United States) (AFP) - Portugal's former prime minister Antonio Guterres held the lead in the race to be the next UN secretary-general after a second secret straw poll on Friday, diplomats said.
Guterres received 11 "encourage" votes, two "discourage" votes and two "no opinion" during the informal vote by the 15-member Security Council, a slightly weaker showing than in the first round last month.
But the 67-year-old Guterres managed to increase his lead over the other candidates in the race to succeed Ban Ki-moon, who steps down after 10 years as UN chief at the end of this year.
Serbia's former foreign minister Vuk Jeremic made a surprisingly strong showing, taking the second spot with eight "encourage" votes, four "discourage" votes and three "no opinion".
Argentina's Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra climbed up the rankings, taking third place and becoming the leading woman in the race.
Malcorra, a UN insider who was Ban's chief of staff, picked up eight encouragements, six discouragements and one no opinion, moving up from eighth place in the first round.
Slovenia's ex-president Danilo Turk, who was the runner-up in the first round, dropped to fourth place, with seven encouragements, five discouragements and three "no opinion".
UNESCO chief Irina Bokova of Bulgaria also fell from her third-place ranking to fifth place, with seven encouragements, seven discouragements and one "no opinion".
Guterres, who served as the UN's refugee chief for 10 years and as Portugal's Socialist prime minister from 1995 to 2002, came out on top during the first round with 12 "encourage" votes and three "no opinion".
Diplomats speculated that one of the two negative votes cast in this round may have come from veto power Russia in a bid to block or slow down his advance.
"Guterres is almost there," commented a diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
- Clark drops in ranking -
Lower down the rankings, New Zealand's ex-prime minister and head of the UN Development Program, Helen Clark, lost some ground as well, taking the number seven spot after Macedonia's ex-foreign minister Srgjan Kerim.
Clark picked up six encouragements and eight "discourage" votes along with one "no opinion." In the first-round rankings, she was sixth.
The last four spots went to former UN climate negotiator Christiana Figueres, ex-foreign minister Natalia Gherman of Moldova, Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak and Igor Luksic, a former acting prime minister of Montenegro.
The shakeup in this round meant that the council will still be holding several straw polls to try to reach a consensus on who should take the helm of the United Nations.
Security Council members are facing calls to pick the first woman after eight men in the job, and to give preference to a candidate from eastern Europe, the only region that has yet to be represented in the post.
Of the 11 candidates, seven are from eastern Europe. Five are women.
The secret vote caps a new, more open process that for the first time in the UN's history allowed candidates to appear at hearings to make their pitch for the top job before the General Assembly.
The results of the straw poll were not publicly announced, but the council president communicated them to the candidates to give them an indication of the level of support in the council.
Some candidates privately said ahead of the vote that they would closely look at the results to decide whether to stay in the race.
Croatia's ex-foreign minister Vesna Pusic pulled out on Thursday after she picked up the lowest score in the first round.
Council diplomats are expecting a nominee to emerge in October, who will then be endorsed by the General Assembly.
The new UN secretary-general will begin his or her five-year term on January 1.