IAEA meets for crunch vote on new chief

The United Nations atomic watchdog was to hold a crunch ballot on Friday to elect its new chief, a day after the Japanese and South African candidates failed to win a clear lead in the first rounds of voting.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) 35-member board was scheduled to vote again in its quest for a new director general to take over the highly sensitive nuclear dossiers of Syria and Iran from Mohamed ElBaradei.

In preliminary voting on Thursday, Japanese candidate Yukiya Amano (61) was frontrunner, but failed to secure the necessary two-thirds majority.

He then lost ground to 69-year-old Abdul Samad Minty from South Africa as the voting process progressed to three rounds.

If the second stage of voting on Friday proves similarly inconclusive, the race will have to be opened up to new candidates.

Whoever takes over from ElBaradei, who steps down in November after heading the IAEA for the past 12 years, faces the daunting task of tackling Iran and Syria over alleged covert nuclear plans.

Both Amano and Minty have long experience in the fields of non-proliferation and disarmament. But critics say that Amano is a reserved technocrat lacking charisma, while Minty is perceived by some Western nations as too outspoken.

Prior to the secret ballots on Thursday, Amano, favoured by Western nations, had been believed to be only one or two votes short of the two-thirds majority of 24 votes.

Amano won 21 votes in the first round, but then saw his lead slip, securing only 20 votes in the second and third rounds.

Minty, seen as the favourite candidate of developing nations, did better than expected, initially winning 14 votes but then saw his support rise to 15 in rounds two and three. There were no abstentions.

The lack of a clear winner reflects the deep divisions between industrialised and developing countries on the 35-member board each representing a nation, diplomats said.

In the second phase of voting on Friday, the board will first determine the so-called “leading candidate” on the basis of a simple majority.

Member states will then vote on the leading candidate alone, with the two-thirds majority rule applicable again.
Because abstentions do not count, Amano could still win with less than 24 votes if they are two thirds of ballots cast.

If no clear winner emerges on Friday, voting will be held again, most likely in May.

ElBaradei has never shied from controversy and has locked horns in the past with Western capitals, and Washington in particular, over the role of the UN watchdog.

The United States has in turn accused him of being too “soft” on Iran and overstepping his mandate.

The change of guard in the IAEA comes at a time when the agency is seeking a significant increase in funding from member states over the next two years in order to carry out its duties effectively.—AFP

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