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szdaily -> Person of the week
‘Steely’ Clark seen as a natural for UN top job
     2016-April-8  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

    FORMER New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has forged a formidable reputation in her homeland, with political allies noting her “steely determination” as she bids to become the first woman to lead the United Nations.

    Clark, who announced Monday her candidacy for the U.N. secretary-general’s role after months of speculation, led New Zealand’s center-left Labor government for three successive terms from 1999 to 2008.

    The 66-year-old then went on to head the U.N.’s largest agency, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), making her the highest-ranking woman at the world body.

    “She is the best person for the job,” New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who succeeded Clark, said in announcing her candidacy in Wellington.

    He said Clark was a proven leader, adding, “It isn’t just the time Clark spent as PM, her entire life has been dedicated to foreign policy.”

    Announcing her candidacy in New York shortly after she was nominated for the top post by New Zealand Prime Minister Key in Wellington, Clark said she believed she had the skills to lead the U.N. as it faced “very serious challenges.”

    “The position of secretary general is about giving a voice to 7 billion people who look to the U.N. for hope and support,” she said.

    Clark’s announcement immediately places her as a serious contender to become the eighth secretary general in the U.N.’s 70-year history. Her reputation as a fighter who survived nine years as premier amid the rough-and-tumble of New Zealand politics is being seen within senior levels of the U.N. as evidence that she would be able to withstand the pressures of the famously thankless task of leading the world body.

    As the head of the UNDP, which she has led for the past seven years, she has proven herself to be a tough administrator who has cut budgets in her area. That may earn her valuable support from the United States, which begrudgingly pays the lion’s share of the UN’s running costs.

    When asked at the press conference announcing her candidacy whether she would seek to reduce the power of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Clark gave a diplomatic answer. “I acknowledge the importance of the P5, as I acknowledge the importance of every member state,” she said.

    Much of the debate around the replacement of Ban Ki-moon is focused on the question: will it break the glass ceiling and see the appointment of the U.N.’s first female leader? Four out of the eight candidates who have thrown their hat into the ring so far are female, including Bulgarian Irina Bokova, who heads UNESCO and is seen as Moscow’s favorite for the job.

    In December, both the president of the U.N. General Assembly and the president of the Security Council — the U.S. ambassador, Samantha Power — wrote an unprecedented joint letter to all member states urging them to nominate female candidates. An Equality Now online campaign calling for a woman to be appointed secretary-general has also attracted more than 30,000 supporters.

    Announcing her candidacy, Clark stressed that she saw herself as the gender-neutral best person to lead the world body. “I’ve never sought election as a woman,” she said, though she added, “In the normal course of events I would like to see women have a fair chance, an equal chance at every leadership position.”

    Born into a conservative North Island farming family, Clark was the eldest of four daughters at Te Pahu in the Waikato Region. Her mother, Margaret McMurray, of Irish birth, was a primary school teacher. Her father, George, was a farmer. Clark studied at Te Pahu Primary School, at Epsom Girls’ Grammar School in Auckland and at the University of Auckland, where she majored in politics and graduated in 1974. Her thesis focused on rural political behavior and representation.

    As a teenager, Clark became politically active, protesting against the Vietnam War and campaigning against foreign military bases in New Zealand.

    Clark was first elected to parliament in 1981 and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming deputy prime minister in 1989 as the Labor government was imploding over controversial economic reforms.

    Clark married sociologist Peter Davis, her partner of five years at that time. Shortly before that she was elected to parliament in 1981 (under pressure from some members of the New Zealand Labor Party to marry despite her own feelings about marriage — her biography says that she cried throughout the wedding ceremony, although she attributes that to a headache). Davis currently is a professor of medical sociology and heads the Sociology Department at the University of Auckland.

    “Helen’s an extremely competent and capable person and she’s available so why not use those skills on the international stage and I think it’s a great natural next step for her,” Davis said.

    The Labor government was ousted in 1990 and Clark took over as leader in 1993, struggling to unite an opposition party that was demoralized and riven by ideological disputes.

    With her opinion poll rating as preferred prime minister at a record low of 2 percent, Clark dug in and refused to stand down when party powerbrokers told her to go.

    Her refusal to buckle in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds was rewarded when she won office in 1999.

    Her administration was initially dismissed by critics as “Helengrad” due to her tight grip on the reins, but Clark’s style eventually became more moderate and pragmatic.

    But she retained an independent streak, breaking ranks with Australia, Britain and the United States when she refused to send troops to the war in Iraq.

    With strong popular support, she has also maintained the country’s nuclear-free status, which was introduced by Labor Prime Minister David Lange in 1984 and soured relations with Washington.

    She cites Nelson Mandela as her biggest political inspiration, and when questioned in 2013 about her achievements as prime minister, replied, “I believe that as PM I contributed to making New Zealand a fairer, better place to live in.”

    She also said the move from Wellington’s parliament to U.N. headquarters in New York had not changed her management style. “Stay on top of the issues, and be proactive and inclusive,” she said.

    Interestingly, Clark also had a role to play in pop culture. In 1996, Clark guest starred as herself in popular New Zealand soap opera “Shortland Street.” A satirical book, later adapted as a play, was published by Lawrence and Gibson in 2005. Clark has also guest-starred on “bro’Town,” the New Zealand animated television series.

    Clark’s successor as Labor leader, Andrew Little, said she was more than capable of handling the U.N.’s top job.

    “Renowned for her steely determination and formidable capabilities, she would make an excellent secretary-general,” Little said. “She is, and always has been, a trailblazer.”

    This may be the first time that the secretary-general is chosen with a modicum of transparency. The first seven holders of the post, including Ban, have all been selected through a byzantine system of horse-trading behind closed doors by the five permanent members of the Security Council — Britain, France, the United States, Russia and China.

    Ban’s successor will still be decided in effect by the Security Council that will eventually hand its choice to the U.N. General Assembly for approval. Unlike in previous rounds, however, this time the General Assembly — the U.N.’s world parliament, in which all 193 member states are represented — is determined to do more than act as a rubber stamp.(SD-Agencies)Helen Clark and her husband, Peter Davis, in this undated file photo. SD-Agencies

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