Maldives foreign minister elected as UN assembly president


UNITED NATIONS — Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives defeated Afghanistan’s former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul in an election Monday for the next president of the United Nations General Assembly.

Volkan Bozkir, the current assembly president, announced the 143-48 result of the secret ballot vote in favor of Shahid, with two of its 193 member nations not voting. Diplomats from member nations, all wearing masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, had been called to the front of the assembly chamber one-by-one to deposit their ballot in a large wooden box.

Bozkir, a Turkish diplomat and politician, said Shahid brings to the job “extensive experience in multilateral diplomacy,” serving his Indian Ocean island nation twice as foreign minister and for 10 years before that as chief of staff to the president.

As the pandemic continues to devastate communities around the world and climate change threatens people’s lives and livelihoods, Bozkir said Shahid has been “a strong voice in calling attention to the impact on small island developing states,” and expressed confidence he will continue to be a relevant voice as the world recovers from the pandemic.

Shahid, who began his career as a diplomat, said he was “deeply humbled” by the trust of member nations and the honor to his small country.

He said he aims to bring “a presidency of hope” when he assumes the one-year post in September, just before the annual meeting of world leaders. Last year, there were video speeches from leaders because of the COVID-19 pandemic but no announcement has been made yet of this year’s arrangements.

Shahid, 59, said the 76th session of the General Assembly, which he will lead, will take place “in challenging times,” pointing to the past year’s “disease, despair and devastation” as a result of the pandemic, along with increasing “inequality, injustice and instability” and the “suffering” of the planet from climate change.

“But we need to get moving again, rebuild communities, rescue the planet, reconnect economies and above all restore hope,” he said. “We need to move to a different normal.”

Shahid said his priorities are to recover from COVID-19, by ensuring that vaccines are available to all people everywhere, and rebuilding economies, “building back stronger and building back greener … and ensuring no country is left behind.”

While the presidency of the General Assembly is largely ceremonial, it is also prestigious.

The world body controls the U.N. budget, adopts treaties, addresses global issues from poverty to climate change, and passes numerous resolutions that while not legally binding almost always reflect global opinion. It is also the U.N. organ where countries large and small can speak — and the scene of the only annual gathering of world leaders.

The selection of the assembly president follows a regional rotation mandated by the world body, and it was the turn of Asia to preside over the next yearlong session.

By tradition, the U.N.’s regional groups usually nominate a single candidate who is then rubber-stamped by the assembly. But this year the election was contested because Asia countries couldn’t agree on a nominee.

Bozkir and Shahid paid tribute to Rassoul, who served as Afghanistan’s foreign minister from 2010-2013 and was one of the top three contenders to replace Hamid Karzai in 2014, losing out to Ashraf Ghani.

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