New director general for Unesco finally elected
The lead candidate, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, is defeated after four round of voting
By Lucian Harris. Web only
Published online: 24 September 2009
The new director general of Unesco is Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova. Bokova, 57, who is currently the Bulgarian ambassador to France, emerged as the sole opponent to Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, 71, after three rounds of voting saw the other seven candidates withdrawn or eliminated. A fourth round on Monday 21 September left the two candidates deadlocked and the real possibility that the result could be drawn from a hat at the delegates conference in October. However the final poll on Tuesday 22 September saw Bokova declared winner by a vote of 31 to 27, the balance reputed to have been tipped by the French ambassador to Unesco's decision to switch from President Sarkozy's stated support for Hosni.
Hosni appeared to be the favourite throughout the race due to the perception that an Arab director would be a unifying force between Islam and the West. Despite a long and successful office at the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, however, Hosni had become embroiled in controversy over anti-Israeli statements and his candidacy for Unesco was opposed by a vocal alliance of Jewish groups and French intellectuals, with both the US and Germany believed to have been allied against him in the Unesco voting. Ironically he was also unpopular with Muslim hardliners who regarded his attitude to Islam as dangerously liberal. According to John Daly of NGO Americans for Unesco, it was always likely that one of the three female candidates would emerge as the leading alternative to Hosni. At one point in the voting it looked as if this would be the Austrian Benita Ferrero-Waldner, however she unexpectedly stood down on Sunday night.
The final days of the vote also brought further controversy after it was reported that on Monday unknown persons were ejected from the Unesco building after accusations of attempted bribery. For many critics the position of director general and indeed much of the running of Unesco has become far too politicised with many decisions revolving around patronage and horse trading that has diluted the organisation's original high ideals. It is widely believed that as the biggest financial contributors to Unesco at the time, Japan was able to facilitate the election of the current Unesco director general, Koichiro Matsuura.
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