UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. General Assembly is holding elections Wednesday, including for two hotly contested seats on the U.N. Security Council.
Five new council members are elected every year and this year Canada, Ireland and Norway are battling for two Western seats and Kenya and Djibouti are competing for one African seat. India is running unopposed for the Asia-Pacific seat and Mexico is running unopposed for the seat for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Security Council is the U.N.'s most powerful body and has five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — and 10 members elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms, with seats allocated to regional groups.
Winning a seat on the council is considered a pinnacle of achievement for many countries because it gives them a strong voice on issues of international peace and security ranging from conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Ukraine to the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and Iran to attacks by extremist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, countries running for Security Council seats often invited ambassadors for lavish visits to their nations, put on dinners and held receptions with entertainment, and sent senior government officials around the globe lobbying for votes. But the virus has curtailed all of that since March.
Normally, ambassadors from the 193 U.N. member states would meet in the horseshoe-shaped assembly chamber at U.N. headquarters overlooking New York's East River and vote by secret ballot for new Security Council members. But because of the coronavirus, member states adopted a new procedure of voting at the assembly during spaced-out time slots starting at 9 a.m. EDT Wednesday to avoid a large gathering and ensure social distancing.
Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande said that in addition to voting for the council seats, ambassadors or their representative will elect new members of the U.N. Economic and Social Council and his successor as head of the General Assembly.
"Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all had to work under extraordinary conditions to overcome the myriad of challenges facing us," Muhammad-Bande said. "Indeed, the forthcoming elections represent our common commitment to ensuring the uninterrupted continuation of the important work of the United Nations, in accordance with the values and principles of the United Nations Charter."
The General Assembly presidency rotates by region every year and there is only one candidate to lead the assembly's 75th session starting in September — Volkan Bozkir of Turkey, selected by the Western Europe and other states group.
The 18 candidates for seats on the economic council are all running unopposed. They are Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Nigeria and Zimbabwe from Africa; Indonesia, Japan and Solomon Islands from Asia-Pacific states; Bulgaria from Eastern Europe; Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico from Latin America and the Caribbean; and Austria, France, Germany, Portugal and the United Kingdom from the Western group.
Muhammad-Bande is expected to announce the initial results sometime Wednesday afternoon, and additional rounds of voting may be needed.