In an electoral battle of two South Asian countries, Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid has defeated Afghanistan's nominee to become the next President of the UN General Assembly.
Shahid, who was backed by India, received 143 votes to former Afghanistan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasoul's 48 in the elections held on Monday.
Shahid pledged a "presidency of hope" for a world struggling to recover from the devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.
He will preside over the Assembly session that starts in September, succeeding Turkey's Volkan Bozkir.
The Security Council is scheduled to start the next big election exercise on Tuesday by endorsing Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a second term and sending the recommendation to the General Assembly.
He is running unopposed although at least six others self-nominated themselves for the position.
Since they do not have the backing of any country, the Council is not considering them.
Shahid told reporters after his election: "This has been a year of disease, despair and devastation. at a time like this when we move towards a new normal, as we look to rebuild communities, recover economies, rescue the planet we need to restore hope."
He earlier told the Assembly that helping the world recover from the pandemic would be the important task ahead.
"My immediate priority will be recovering from Covid-19. Building on existing initiatives and approaches, I will be looking to address the health of our people and our economies."
Congratulating Shahid, India's External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar tweeted: "This is a testimony as much to his own stature as to the standing of Maldives. We look forward to working with him to strengthen multilateralism and its much needed reforms."
Guterres said that "Shahid's longstanding diplomatic experience, including in his current role as minister of foreign affairs, has given him a deep understanding of the importance of multilateralism in addressing today's global challenges".
Shahid was a career diplomat before entering politics. He was first elected to the Maldives Parliament in 2000 and became Speaker in 2009.
In between, he was the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs from 2005 to 2007 and did a short stint as Foreign Minister from 2007 to 2008. He took up the position again in 2018.
The Assembly's presidency rotates among the five regional groups at the UN and it was the Asia-Pacific group's turn this time.
The group could not arrive at a consensus on a nominee setting off the contest between two members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
When Afghanistan pitched its candidacy in 2009, it became the first to enter the race, Rassoul, who is now his country's Ambassador to the UK, asserted in a statement.
But the Maldives overtook it diplomatically given the uncertainty over the future of Afghanistan where the Taliban is likely to enter the government under a peace deal involving the US that is being negotiated.
Also, Maldives never had the Assembly presidency, while Afghanistan's Abdul Rahman Pazhwak had been the UNGA President during 1966-67.
India's support for Shahid was sealed in a joint statement issued by him and Jaishankar during the Indian minister's visit to the Maldives in February.
At a news conference during the visit, Jaishankar called him the "best equipped" for the job and added: "We will work together to make this a reality. We would really like to work with you during our membership of the United Nations Security Council for 2021-22."
Afghanistan's candidate Rassoul received praise from Shahid for the "dignified" way he contested, a sentiment echoed also by Guterres.
Rassoul ran unsuccessfully for Afghanistan President in 2014 and after entering the race again in 2019 he withdrew his nomination.
There were no abstentions or invalid votes in the Assembly election at the 193-member UN, but two countries, Iran and the Central African Republic, were barred under UN regulations from voting because they have not paid their membership dues.
In keeping with Covid-19 regulations, only two delegates from each country were allowed into the Assembly hall and members were called up by turn to cast their votes in a ballot box in front of the stage.
(Arul Louis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed @arulouis)
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