The Bulgarian government on Wednesday switched its candidate for the post of the United Nations Secretary General, shaking up the race to succeed Ban Ki-moon when he steps down on December 31.
Sofia said it was withdrawing support for candidate Irina Bokova, instead throwing its weight behind European Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva.
Bokova, UNESCO’s director general, came a lowly sixth among nine contenders in the latest round of informal voting in New York.
Sofia had warned it would reconsider its support for Bokova if she did come first or second in the last ballot, which showed former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres is still leading the race to replace Ban.
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov announced the nomination of Georgieva during a meeting with the cabinet attended by reporters.
“We consider that this will be a more successful nomination,” Borisov told his ministers.
Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov said Bulgaria needed to support a candidate who has a bigger chance to become the first Eastern European to lead the global organization.
“This was a difficult decision, but it was necessary, so that we give a chance to the (U.N.) Eastern European group to have its secretary-general,” Mitov told reporters.
Mitov said U.N. procedure did not allow for a country to withdraw the nominations and that Bokova, 64, would have to decide how to proceed.
Bokova would need to file a letter announcing her withdrawal. She says she sees no reason to do that.
“None of the other candidates, even those with worse results, is doing it because the real race is still ahead,” she said in an interview for the daily 24 chasa on Wednesday.
Bulgaria’s switch to Georgieva, a 63-year-old economist, came a day after Borisov spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone.
Veto-wielding Russia wants the next U.N. chief to come from eastern Europe, the only region yet to be represented in the top post.
Rumors had been swirling for days that Bulgaria would drop its support for Bokova, a Harvard graduate and fluent Russian speaker backed by Moscow.
Monday’s secret ballot was the fifth held by the Security Council in this leadership race, and these polls will continue until a consensus is reached.
The council will then formally recommend the candidate to the 193-member General Assembly for election.
The next ballot is scheduled for Oct. 5.
Ban steps down at the end of 2016 after serving two five-year terms.