Turkey’s Bozkır the lone candidate to head UN General Assembly

Volkan Bozkır, a member of parliament for Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), is the lone candidate to become the next president of the United Nations General Assembly. This will be the first time Turkey has held the largely symbolic role at the UN.

The UN president serves a one-year term and the office rotates among five regional groupings of UN member states. The Western Europe and Others Group, of which Turkey is a member, will hold the 2020-2021 term.

There is only a full vote by the UN General Assembly for the president if the regional group fails to endorse a lone candidate. This occurred in 2016, when Peter Thomson from Fiji was elected over the Cypriot candidate.

The election is expected on June 8 at 10 a.m. EST. If Bozkır is elected, he will take office in September 2020 and hold office until September 2021.

An informal interactive dialogue between the current 74th President, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria, and Bozkır is scheduled on Friday at 11 a.m. EST.

The dialogue can be viewed here.

While it is not unusual that a lone candidate has been put forward this year, it is curious that it is Turkey's candidate that gained consensus support within the Western Europe and Others Group at a time when relations between Turkey and Europe are tense. Bozkır is a former diplomat who held several posts in Europe. He is loyal to the AKP, though he is not known to be ideologically tied to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s circle.

Historically, power within the UN has centred on the secretary-general and the five permanent members of the Security Council (P5); the United States, China, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom. In recent years, however, the member states of the UN have turned increasingly to the General Assembly (UNGA) for action on global challenges.

The secretary-general can no longer expect that his or her proposals will be supported, and the General Assembly will sometimes pass resolutions against the interests of the P5. The shifting balance of power adds significant complexity to UN decision making, because action in the General Assembly requires consensus building among the UN's 193 member states.

The UN President heads the General Assembly. The president is formally ranked higher than the secretary-general and is afforded the honours of a head of state when he or she makes diplomatic visits around the world. In practice, the president has largely held a ceremonial position, ensuring parliamentary processes are followed at UN meetings.

Although member states may turn increasingly to the General Assembly to address their concerns, the assembly does not have the authority that the Security Council does to adopt binding decisions for all member states. The General Assembly is, however, the UN's primary normative body and it approves the UN's budget, appoints senior UN officials, and accepts new member states.

Given the complexity of global decision making both within and outside the UN, there are reasonable arguments for making the UN president a more active position capable of tackling some of the international challenges facing the UN member states. Any future changes to expand the role of the president, however, are unlikely to come before Bozkır's term ends.

Turkey will likely laud Bozkır's uncontested election as a prestigious occasion, but the development will afford Turkey little actual power to dominate the UN agenda. Bozkır can use the position to take the lead on important international issues like human rights and migration that Turkey has a poor record on, but he will be constrained by the need to build consensus among the UN's diverse membership.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.