Portugal's Guterres leads U.N. chief race after second ballot

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres is still the front-runner to become the next United Nations Secretary-General after a second U.N. Security Council secret ballot on Friday, said diplomats.

Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), arrives for a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland December 18, 2015. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File photo

The 15-member council cast a ballot for each of the 11 candidates, and the choice is encourage, discourage or no opinion. Guterres received 11 encourage, two discourage and two no opinions, diplomats said. In the first poll on July 21, Guterres received 12 encourages and three no opinions.

Former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic moved up to second with eight encourage, four discourage and three no opinion, edging out Argentinian Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra who got eight encourage, six discourage and one no opinion.

Former Slovenian President Danilo Turk dropped to fourth from second with seven encourage, five discourage and three no opinion, while Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, director-general of U.N. cultural organization UNESCO took fifth spot.

The Security Council will hold secret ballots until a consensus is reached on a candidate to replace U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon of South Korea who steps down at the end of 2016 after serving two five-year terms.

There are 11 candidates, six men and five women, vying for the post. Former Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic, who came last in the first ballot, dropped out of the race on Thursday. (Graphic -

Civil society groups and nearly a third of the 193 U.N. member states, led by Colombia, have pushed for the first woman secretary-general. Four of those countries, Japan, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela are in the security council.

But hopes for a woman to lead the United Nations appear to be fading. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said this week that was because “the people who have spoken so loudly about the need to support a woman have not done that when it came to the actual straw poll.”

Guterres was prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002 and served as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from June 2005 to December 2015.

Diplomats said the council aimed to recommend a candidate to the 193-member General Assembly for election by October. Ultimately, the five permanent veto-wielding council members - the United States, Russia, Britain, China and France - must agree on a candidate.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool