Helen Clark swats UN ‘establishment’ tag

Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark has come out swinging in a two-hour question-and-answer session at the United Nations, pointing to her history in advancing women’s rights and refuting a suggestion she is the “establishment candidate” for secretary-general.

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Ms Clark is one of the frontrunners for the UN’s top job and repeatedly told how she had the full backing of the New Zealand government.

It is something former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, who has not formally announced he will run for the soon-to-be-vacant secretary-general position, does not have.

“I come forward because the government of New Zealand believes I am the best person for the job and I come forward with the full support of the government and parliament of New Zealand,” Ms Clark told reporters after the two-hour session at the UN headquarters in New York on Thursday.

There was awkward silence and laughs when Australia’s delegation was called to ask Ms Clark a question, but one did not come.

“Well, then I try to give the floor to Canada on behalf of Australia,” an amused General Assembly president Mogens Lykketoft said.

Ms Clark took umbrage at a St Vincent and the Grenadines questioner who suggested she could be viewed as the UN’s establishment candidate to take over from retiring secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

“I have never been an establishment candidate for anything,” Ms Clark responded.

“I have come from the outside of everything I have done from a rural background to urban settings; as a woman breaking into a man’s world which was politics in my country; as a woman becoming the first elected prime minister.”

Ms Clark, one of nine candidates to officially run for the job, was asked about topics ranging from cyber terrorism, her use of Twitter, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, global warming, UN Security Council reform and gender equality.

“Clearly my whole life has been one around breaking glass ceilings myself in the hope that other women will also pass through the shards of glass,” she said.

Ms Clark shrugged off British bookmakers installing her as a favourite, saying New Zealanders might like horse racing but she has “never been a betting person”.

In answer to a question about her use of Twitter, Ms Clark said she will remain a fan of social media if she is secretary-general.

“You can’t take tweeting out of me,” she said.

The public hearings are a first for the UN in deciding a secretary-general, but the final decision will be made by the permanent Security Council members – the US, Britain, China, France, Russia.

Some UN insiders and analysts believe the eventual victor will not come from one of the nine candidates, but someone waiting in the wings, a strategy Mr Rudd appears to be following.