Great expectations for UN council seat

As the final leg of Malaysia’s lobby campaign for a Security Council non-permanent seat approaches, Kuala Lumpur is banking on its moderation campaign to win the day.

THE last time Malaysia was elected to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), it received an overwhelming 174 votes out of 176 cast. That was 16 years ago.

It was the highest votes among the five countries elected as a non-permanent member of the Security Council for the 1999/2000 term.

That was also the third time Malaysia won the seat. Previously, Malaysia sat on the non-permanent seat in 1989/90 and 1965.

As Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak starts his working visit to the UN this week to help lobby and secure the non-permanent seat, it is worth remembering that Malaysia achieved its best record in 1998 at a time when the country was undergoing economic and political turmoil.

Could Malaysia repeat the feat or perform even better than the last election nearly two decades ago?

It’s a tall order. Expectations are high for the current team in New York to perform.

At the last count, officials are confident of getting more than 180 votes out of the 193 voting countries.

There are six countries ­– Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, Turkey and Venezuela – vying for five seats.

The Security Council is the most important UN decision-making body. Five permanent members of the council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – enjoy veto power over its decisions.

The 10 non-permanent seats are filled by members of the UN General Assembly, with five countries elected each year to two-year non-renewable mandates. A candidate nation has to win two-thirds of the votes cast in a secret ballot.

Malaysia’s candidacy has already received the endorsement of the Asia-Pacific Group at the UN during its monthly meeting in New York in January.

Within this group, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has also endorsed Malaysia’s candidacy. And of course Malaysia received the full endorsement of Asean.

Still, Kuala Lumpur is not taking any chances.

Unlike the last election when retired ambassadors were appointed as special envoys to lobby for votes, Wisma Putra this time conducted high-level travels all over the world.

Wherever they could, whether at international conferences in Samoa or bilateral visits to countries like Kazakhstan, the team has been meeting their counterparts and lobbying to secure the votes.

Malaysia formally submitted its candidacy for the 2015-2016 term on 15 June 2001, shortly after concluding its UNSC membership for the 1999-2000 term.

The 2015-2016 term was selected, among other reasons, because it was the earliest term to be uncontested for the Asia Pacific Group at that point in time.

The last election Malaysia was vying for the seat to be vacated by Japan. This year Kuala Lumpur is vying for the seat to be vacated by South Korea.

So in the “campaigns” conducted by Malaysia, the team has been engaging with member states.

“We are not just lobbying their support, but we are also taking the advantage by exchanging views with different countries on issues of concern on the UNSC’s agenda,” said an official.

It is something much appreciated by several African, eastern European and Latin American countries as Malaysia is willing to hear the diverse views from other regions on issues of peace and international security.

Malaysia believes moderation provides the best approach in resolving differences and conflicts peacefully and because of this, it decided to give the theme to the UNSC campaignof “Peace and Security Through Moderation”.

Officials believed that moderation, which has been successfully practised by Malaysia and other Asean neighbours, could be applied to other conflicts and situations in other parts of the world.

While some issues around the world are getting to be more complex, other old issues are still on the table.

The situation in Syria, sectarian violence, the Sunni-Syiah conflict or managing the territorial dispute in the South China Sea must be addressed.

It will be interesting how Malaysia, when it is eventually elected to the seat, plays its role on the global stage.

Malaysia should not just be warming up the seat. There are many challenges and issues waiting ahead.

> Deputy executive editor Mergawati Zulfakar was at the UN in 1998 to witness Malaysia getting elected to the UNSC. She hopes Malaysia repeats the feat when the election takes place on Oct 16.

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