United Nations: Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid was on Monday overwhelmingly elected as President of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, garnering 143 votes out of the 191 ballots cast.
India had already voiced its strong support for Shahid’s candidature as President of the 76th session of the UNGA, saying he is best equipped to preside over the General Assembly of 193 nations of the world.
The General Assembly voted on Monday to elect the President, who will preside over the upcoming session of the UN body that will commence in September.
In the fray for the election was Shahid as well as former foreign minister of Afghanistan Dr Zalmai Rassoul, who got 48 votes.
“Hearty congratulations to Maldives Foreign Minister @abdulla_shahid for the robust victory and for being elected as the 76th President of the UN General Assembly,” India’s Permanent Mission to the UN tweeted.
This is a crucial time for the United Nations and for the world. There’s very little time to spare, so I intend to get to work right away .I intend to hit the ground running on day one in September as soon as I take my oath of office, Shahid, 59, said in his remarks to the press following his election.
The Maldivian minister said his “immediate priority” will be recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and working to ensure “vaccine equity” to restore hope from a year characterised by “disease, despair and devastation.”
“We approach the 76th session in challenging times. Disease, despair and devastation have characterised the past year. Inequality, injustice and instability have increased. The environment, the ocean, our planet is suffering. But we need to get moving again, rebuild communities, rescue the planet, recover economies and above all restore hope,” Shahid said in his remarks to the General Assembly after his election.
He underlined that “we need to move to a different normal” and said that his “five rays of hope, my five priorities are geared towards that.
The “first priority is recovering from COVID-19, especially ensuring equitable access to vaccines; then rebuilding sustainably so that we build back better, stronger, greener and bluer ; next is responding to the needs of the planet.
Humanity must be at the centre of all our efforts so my fourth priority is respecting the rights of all. And because a stronger United Nations is necessary to implement this vision, revitalising the United Nations is my fifth priority. This includes bringing the United Nations close to the people, Shahid said.
“I will be looking to address the health of our people and our economies and work to ensure vaccine equity. We need to vaccinate the entire world. No one is safe until everyone is safe, he said.
Congratulating Shahid on his election, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres commended him for his selection of hope as the central theme in his vision statement.
The UN Chief said Shahid’s longstanding diplomatic experience, including in his current role as Minister of Foreign Affairs, has given him a deep understanding of the importance of multilateralism in addressing today’s global challenges.
Coming from a small island developing state, Shahid will bring unique insights to the 76th session of the General Assembly, ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November, Guterres said.
The UN Chief noted that as the UN’s most representative organ, the General Assembly is the foundation of all our work at the United Nations, and essential to our effectiveness as an Organization.
In his remarks to the press, Shahid added that his ultimate objective is to strengthen multilateralism, enhance cooperation, make the United Nations deliver, reign in a presidency of hope.
In response to a question on whether in-person meetings will resume in the General Assembly session in September after the pandemic forced over year of virtual meetings, he said “we have started with one plus one formula, which seems to be functioning so far so good. It would be prudent for us to make sure that we maintain our cautious approach to this so that we will be able to continue the function of the United Nations in the new normal.”
“But as soon as possible, yes it should be in our interest, in the interest of this organisation to come back into the normalcy, if at all possible, he said.
Under a pilot project implemented in the UN from June 1, delegations would commit to have only fully vaccinated delegates accessing meetings of the General Assembly and its subsidiary bodies in the General Assembly Hall.
According to the established rules of regional rotation, the President of the 76th session of the General Assembly was to be elected from the Group of Asia-Pacific States.
Shahid will succeed Turkish diplomat Volkan Bozkir who was UNGA President for the 75th session that came amid the unprecedented COVID19 pandemic.
Bozkir wholeheartedly congratulated Shahid on his election as the next president of the General Assembly, saying he brings to the position extensive experience in multilateral diplomacy.
He said as the COVID 19 pandemic continues to devastate communities around the world and climate change threatens people’s lives and livelihoods, Shahid has been a strong voice in calling attention to the impact on small island developing states.
I have no doubt that he will lead the General Assembly in a dedicated, transparent and inclusive manner, Bozkir said.
The President of the General Assembly is elected every year by a secret ballot and requires a simple majority vote of the General Assembly.
The Presidency of the General Assembly rotates among the five regional groups – the Group of Asian States, the Group of Eastern European States, the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Group of African States, the Western European and other States Group.
Traditionally, a regional group agrees on one candidate and presents his or her candidature for election as President of the General Assembly, paving the way for election by acclamation. But this year the two candidates in fray were from the Maldives and Afghanistan, with both of whom India shares close ties.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, in his remarks at a joint press conference with his Maldivian counterpart in Male in February this year, had praised Shahid’s vast diplomatic experience and leadership qualities.
“In this context, I reiterate today India’s strong support to the candidature of Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid for President of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly next year.
“Foreign Minister Shahid, with his vast diplomatic experience and his leadership qualities is, in our view, the best equipped to preside over the General Assembly of 193 nations of the world. We will work together to make this a reality. We would really like to work with you during our membership of the United Nations Security Council for 2021-22, Jaishankar had said.
Shahid is the first President-elect of the General Assembly from the Maldives in the 75 year-old history of the UN and in the 55 years since the Maldives became a United Nations member. He is the sixth president from the small island developing states, “a step that I believe brings us closer to true representation.”
Shahid said that the international community needs to rebuild sustainably and the decade of action will now also have to be a decade of recovery, “focusing on building back better, building back stronger and building back greener and bluer.”
“Targeted interventions will be needed to ensure that no one, no country is left behind,” he said, adding that the 76th session can be a super session for nature.
“There is momentum on responding to the needs of our planet. Addressing the needs of our people is equally important, ensuring that we respect the rights of all, mobilizing the collective will, and conscience of humanity is a process requiring constant work.”
He added that he will ensure more voice and space for youth in the General Assembly and he will raise his voice against gender discrimination, advocate for gender equality. “I reiterate my pledge as President of the General Assembly, I will not participate in any panels that are not gender-balanced.”
He further asserted that addressing the demands of the day will most definitely require a stronger United Nations, “a transparent, efficient, effective and an accountable United Nations, coordination, coherence and cooperation within the United Nations system and between its organs.
“So we will need to continue working on revitalizing the United Nations, building on gains, exploring new avenues.”
He expressed gratitude to Rassoul “for your dignified conduct through this campaign.”
India, currently serving the 2021-22 term as non-permanent member of the powerful UN Security Council, will assume the Presidency of the 15-nation UN organ in August.
In November last year, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, on a visit to Male, had said that the Maldives should play a more prominent role in the United Nations and had reiterated India’s support to Shahid’s candidature for the presidency of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.