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76th United Nations General Assembly elects its new President

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    14th Jun, 2021

Maldives Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid has been elected president of the 76th UNGA with an overwhelming majority. He received 143 votes out of 191 ballots cast, while Afghanistan’s former Foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul got 48 votes.

Context

Maldives Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid has been elected president of the 76th UNGA with an overwhelming majority. He received 143 votes out of 191 ballots cast, while Afghanistan’s former Foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul got 48 votes.

Background

  • Maldives had announced Shahid’s candidature in December 2018, at a time no other candidate was in the fray.
  • India announced its support for Shahid during Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s visit to Maldives in November 2020. He was the only candidate even then.
  • While Rassoul also had strong credentials, by the time his candidature was announced, Maldives had already garnered extensive support. Moreover, it has never held the office of PGA, while Afghanistan held the post during the 21st GA session in 1966-67.

Analysis

Procedure of Election of President

  • The Presidency of the General Assembly rotates among the five regional groups – the Group of Asian States, the Group of Eastern European States, the Group of Latin American and the Caribbean States, the Group of African States, the Western European and other States Group.
  • The President of the General Assembly is elected every year by a secret ballot and requires a simple majority vote of the General Assembly
  • In accordance with UNGA’s ‘Rules of Procedure’, the President and Vice-Presidents are elected
  • Elections (Rule 30): General Assembly elects a President and twenty-one Vice-Presidents at 9 least three months before the opening of the session over which they are to preside.
  • Temporary President (Rule 31): If, at the opening of a session of the General Assembly, the President for that session has not yet been elected, the President of the previous session shall preside until the Assembly has elected a President
  • Acting President (Rule 32): If the President finds it necessary to be absent during a meeting or any part thereof, he shall designate one of the Vice-Presidents to take his place.
  • Replacement of the President (Rule 34): If the President is unable to perform his functions, a new President shall be elected for the unexpired term.

General Powers of the President

  • Declare the opening and closing of each plenary meeting of the session
  • Direct the discussions in plenary meeting, ensure observance of these rules, accord the right to speak, put questions and announce decisions.
  • He shall rule on points of order and, subject to these rules, shall have complete control of the proceedings at any meeting and over the maintenance of order thereat.
  • The President may, in the course of the discussion of an item, propose to the General Assembly the limitation of the time to be allowed to speakers, the limitation of the number of times each representative may speak, the closure of the list of speakers or the closure of the debate.
  • He may also propose the suspension or the adjournment of the meeting or the adjournment of the debate on the item under discussion
  • The President, in the exercise of his functions, remains under the authority of the General Assembly.
  • The President, or a Vice-President acting as President, shall not vote but shall designate another member of his delegation to vote in his place.

Proposed reforms

  • With the increased importance and expectations regarding the performance of the Office, it is no longer tenable that the President should rotate automatically every year between the regional groups.
  • The selection of the President should be based on a competitive process open to all UN Member States, similar to the Secretary-General
  • The President’s term in office should be extended from one to two years. This would ensure that the effectiveness, professionalism and diplomatic support that Member States have come to expect from the presidency is maintained
  • As an alternative, Presidents could be appointed one year in advance and serve as Deputy President for one year under the current President, before taking office.
  • Even if the President’s term in office is not extended, the staff should still be retained for longer periods, since this would improve the service and support enjoyed both by the President and the Member States.

Functions and powers of United Nations General Assembly

According to the Charter of the United Nations, the General Assembly may:

  • Consider and approve the United Nations budget and establish the financial assessments of Member States
  • Elect the non-permanent members of the Security Council and the members of other United Nations councils and organs and, on the recommendation of the Security Council, appoint the Secretary-General
  • Consider and make recommendations on the general principles of cooperation for maintaining international peace and security, including disarmament
  • Discuss any question relating to international peace and security and, except where a dispute or situation is currently being discussed by the Security Council, make recommendations on it
  • Discuss, with the same exception, and make recommendations on any questions within the scope of the Charter or affecting the powers and functions of any organ of the United Nations
  • Initiate studies and make recommendations to promote international political cooperation, the development and codification of international law, the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and international collaboration in the economic, social, humanitarian, cultural, educational and health fields
  • Make recommendations for the peaceful settlement of any situation that might impair friendly relations among countries
  • Consider reports from the Security Council and other United Nations organs

Conclusion

Over the last ten to fifteen years the political role of the General Assembly and its President has undergone a gradual and incremental enhancement. This has occurred in part because of the frustration of many Member States at the lack of reform of the Security Council. At the same time, it has become increasingly possible for small- and medium-sized countries to show leadership in the negotiations and in leading the coalitions that spearhead change and get to results. Hence the proposed reforms in such multilateral institutions are the need of the hour.

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