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First round of vote fails to elect Unesco head

Farouk Hosny, Egypt’s minister of culture and the favourite to succeed Koichiro Matsuura as director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), failed to win an outright majority in the first round of a secret ballot held last night at a meeting of the agency’s executive board in Paris. Hosny won 22 of the 57 votes made – there was one abstention — giving him a clear lead over other the eight other contenders, but short of the 30 votes needed for election.

Bulgaria’s candidate, former foreign minister Irina Gueorguieva Bokova won eight votes, and three other candidates seven – Russia’s deputy foreign minister Alexander Vladimirovich Yakovenko, Ecuador’s Ivonne Juez de Baki, a diplomat, and Austria’s Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for external relations. The remainder won no votes, or less than three.

Four further rounds of voting will be held this evening, and, if necessary, tomorrow. All nine candidates can rerun. If it goes to a third round, the two winners of this would go head-to-head in a final tiebreaker round. Unesco’s general assembly must officially confirm the nomination at a meeting on 15 October.

The 71 year old Egyptian candidate has been widely considered the front-runner in the election, which is highly-political and subject to intense horsetrading. It would be the first time that a director general of Unesco came from an Arab country, and several countries are supporting his candidacy as a bridge between the West and Islamic countries. Hosny also has the united backing of the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the African Union.

But the candidature of Hosny, a painter, and culture minister for two decades, has become steeped in controversy over allegations that he has made antisemitic comments, and criticism of Egypt’s poor track record on censorship and press freedom – liberty of expression is one of Unesco’s founding principles. His candidature has been opposed by Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace prize winner, and some intellectuals, as well as Jewish, and human rights groups.

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