UNITED NATIONS - India, South Africa, Germany, Portugal and Colombia were elected to the UN Security Council. But the defeat of Canada, often considered the Boy Scout of the world body, prompted some head-scratching.
The elections are annual events for the 15-nation Council, the most prestigious and powerful UN entity, responsible for war, peacekeeping and sanctions. Five nations are permanent members -- United States, Russia, China, Britain, France-- and 10 are elected by regions, five each year.
The new members replace Austria, Japan, Mexico, Turkey and Uganda whose terms expire on Dec. 31. Bosnia, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon and Nigeria remain on the council until the end of 2011
India, South Africa and Colombia ran unopposed from their regions while Germany, Portugal and Canada competed for two seats from the Western group. Germany, a European powerhouse which is also campaigning for a permanent council seat, achieved the two-thirds vote immediately. Canada then dropped out after Portugal was leading by 35 votes in the second ballot on Tuesday.
Canada's Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon blamed opposition Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff for the defeat. "I can't give you any definite response as to what the real issue was, but I can say that Michael Ignatieff's statements hurt us," Cannon told a news conference shortly after the vote. But he said, "I do not think this is a repudiation of Canada's foreign policy."
Ignatieff was quoted by Canadian newspapers as saying:
This is a government that for four years has basically ignored the United Nations and now is suddenly showing up saying, 'Hey put us on the council.' Don't mistake me. I know how important it is for Canada to get a seat on the Security Council, but Canadians have to ask a tough question: 'Has this government earned that place? We're not convinced it has.'
Canada has served six terms on the council, once a decade since 1945 and won each time, with many delegations preferring Ottawa because of the number of Europeans on the council. But the conservative government in Ottawa was considered uninterested, with Prime Minister Harper, who took power in 2006, last year skipping a chance to address the General Assembly and attending an event at a doughnut shop at home. Among the reasons Canadian pundits cited were a strong pro-Israeli policy, a reduction of aid to Palestinian refugees and well as to African nations. Ottawa, certain of victory, also campaigned late - although delegates did get a jar of maple syrup.
Emerging Powers Present Challenge The new council includes some of the world's rising powers that are expected to challenge the United States and its allies - India, South Africa along with Brazil and Nigeria.
According to Security Council Report, a research organization affiliated with Columbia University that specializes in council affairs:
"2011 could see the strongest group of global stakeholders ever assembled on the council. This could create a unique positive dynamic. But it is difficult to predict whether it will foster a more proactive and effective Security Council. "
India, which has close trade ties with Iran, and South Africa are expected to have misgivings about any new U.N. sanctions against Tehran, as Brazil currently does.
South Africa, when it was on the council in 2007-2008, sided with China and Russia in refusing to condemn Myanmar and voting down any punitive measures against Zimbabwe, arguing they were not subjects suitable for the council. But in other forums, it also opposed or refused to support resolutions on human rights abuses in Belarus, Iran or North Korea.
UN Watch, a Geneva-based advocacy group, said in a statement, "We urge South Africa - as a leading democracy with a vital role to play in world affairs - to ensure that this time, whenever vital human rights issues are at stake at the UN, it will vote like a democracy."
South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told this reporter that such positions were taken by the previous government and one should "think positive." She did not elaborate.
All the candidates campaigned on making the Security Council more transparent. Yet the council has seems to have used the current UN renovation to cut off access to its temporary quarters. Walls have been erected to shield the council from cameras that could observe delegates arriving and leaving consultations. An additional camera has been promised but none has materialized.
With the press a 10 minute walk from the council chambers, the end of meetings often are not announced on time, now that a representative of the UN spokesman's office, which had alerted reporters, has been excluded. In addition, public appearances by the council's 15 ambassadors at the end of meetings have dropped noticeably, according to Security Council Report, which recorded 64 percent fewer briefings to reporters and the few diplomats not on the council who take the time to attend in person.
Members, especially the United States, deny the renovation has been used as an excuse to cut off access. But the walls are still there.