Paris — Unlike all previous expectations, the fourth election round to assign a new director general for UNESCO carried a surprise that has never happened in the history of the UN organization.
The fourth round, which was carried out Thursday evening and was expected to be concluded with choosing the first and the second candidates, resulted in what was not taken into account. On one hand, Qatari candidate Mohammed bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari guaranteed that he will reach the last round by receiving 22 votes out of the 58 cast by members of the executive board, yet on the other hand, the French and Egyptian candidates ended up with 18 votes each.
This tie forced current Director-General Irina Bokova to announce that there will be an eliminating ballot between Egypt’s Moushira Khattab and France’s Audrey Azoulay on Friday to determine who will run against al-Kawari in a final vote on Friday.
These developments have changed the environment into dramatic, especially for the French candidate, who maintained the 18 votes she has received on Wednesday and did not benefit from the pullout of Lebanese candidate Vera El-Khoury, with four votes, and Chinese candidate Tang Qian, with five votes.
However, the Egyptian candidate succeeded in boosting her position and attracted five extra votes.
Azoulay was expected to be the first to benefit from the withdrawal of Vera El-Koury Lacoeuilhe and the Chinese candidate, and this was the theory promoted by French diplomats present in UNESCO’s headquarters on Thursday afternoon.
The French candidate was reassured more by the supporting campaign carried out by President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Nevertheless, the result of the voting was not the only surprise as the second surprise was the US announcement of its withdrawal from UNESCO.
Disclosing the US government’s decision, the state department said in a statement it would seek to “remain engaged … as a non-member observer state in order to contribute US views, perspectives, and expertise.”
It also added that the withdrawal will take effect on 31 December 2018.
The announcement by the Trump administration was followed a few hours later by news that Israel was also planning to quit the UN organization.
In a statement Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister welcomed the US move saying: “This is a brave and moral decision.”