Rabat – Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin described Antonio Guterres as “a clear favorite” for the U.N.’s top diplomatic position, winning 13 “encourage” votes from the 15-member Security Council.
The elite group of countries recommends candidates for the U.N. Secretary-General position to the 193-member General Assembly, who will vote on the nomination in the coming weeks.
But who is Guterres – the man slated to fill highly-coveted spot for the next seven years?
The Former Portuguese Prime Minister has held many senior-level national and international positions through his nearly four decade-long political career.
Guterres started working with Portugal’s Socialist Party in 1974, when he quit his career in academia to pursue politics full-time.
At the time, the Estada Novo or “The Second Republic”– a corporatist authoritarian regime installed in 1933 – reigned over the country under the leadership of Prime Minister Marcelo Caetano.
Guterres spent less than two years as a politician in Caetano’s Portugal as 1975’s Carnation Revolution wiped away the leftist regime.
In the nation’s new parliament, he served on several commissions before he took the top spot in the Socialist Party in 1992 – becoming the de-facto leader of the opposition coalition to the government.
In 1995, Guterres and his party won the national legislative elections, making him Prime Minister. His popularity in the position – buttressed by strong economic growth – led him to be re-elected in 1999.
During his second term, he occupied the Presidency of the European Council, but toxic party politics, a global recession and a bridge disaster damaged his popularity, causing him to resign.
“I am resigning to prevent the country from falling into a political swamp,” he told citizens.
The Socialist Party lost the next elections, leading Guterres to tretire from politics. In 2005, the UN General Assembly elected him to be High Commissioner for Refugees.
He managed major refugee crisis in the Middle East – including Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq – during his tenure at the massive humanitarian agency that is the UNHCR.
Guterres has praised the initiative of His Majesty King Mohammed VI on migration and asylum, stating that the Moroccan approach is “in line with the challenges of refugee protection.”
“I want to express our gratitude to the Kingdom of Morocco, which has done a remarkable job within the executive committee,” Guterres said in 2013, speaking in Geneva at the adoption of the 2014-2015 budget for the UNHCR – his second-last before leaving the agency’s highest office at the end of 2015.
Guterres is also the UN official who established the official number of Saharwis in the Tindouf camps. While the Algerian government and the Polisario Front have been claiming for years that the number of Saharwis in the camps exceeds 150,000 people, Guterres established the number of people living in the territory at 90,000.
During his tenure as head of the UN refugee agency, Gueterres was vocal in calling on Algeria to allow the UN to conduct a census of people living in the Tindouf camps.
Earlier this year, AFP quoted Former Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva, who said Guterres “left a legacy” at the refugee agency “that means today he is a respected voice and all the world listens to him.”