UNITED NATIONS – Malaysia will assume two key posts in the global stage by 2015. Besides leading the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Kuala Lumpur will also take its seat at the world’s so-called “top table.”
Malaysia overwhelmingly won a seat at the United Nations Security Council in an unopposed campaign to represent Asia in the UN’s most powerful body.
Kuala Lumpur obtained 187 votes from the 193-member UN General Assembly in elections held at the UN Headquarters here in New York on Thursday, October 16.
Also winning non-permanent seats are Angola, Venezuela, New Zealand, and Spain. Turkey only obtained 60 votes, less than the required two-thirds or 129. It took 3 ballots to determine if Spain or Turkey will clinch the seat.
Like the other top diplomats from countries vying for seats, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman was present to witness the vote.
“The number of votes received bears testimony to Malaysia’s long-standing reputation as a responsible member of the international community, particularly in the context of international peace and security,” Anifah said after Malaysia’s election.
The minister thanked the ASEAN, the Asia Pacific Group and the Gulf Cooperation Council for endorsing Malaysia’s bid for the Security Council.
Reiterating a key message of Malaysia during its campaign, Anifah said Kuala Lumpur will continue to promote “moderation” as an approach to conflict resolution. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Najib Razak, Muslim-majority Malaysia has been harping on its image as a diverse, tolerant nation committed to fighting extremist and radical groups.
Anifah added that Malaysia will focus on supporting countries emerging from conflict, reform the exclusive Security Council, and “enhance” peacekeeping operations. Malaysia is the 34th top troop contributing country to peacekeeping, with 874 peacekeepers deployed as of September.
In its campaign, Malaysia cited its role as the facilitator in the peace process between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Malaysia will replace South Korea in the UN body in charge of maintaining international peace and security. The Council has the power to impose sanctions, authorize the use of force, and issue decisions binding on all UN member states.
Malaysia will start its two-year term on January 1, 2015, the year when it will also chair ASEAN as the regional bloc aims for political, security, economic and socio-cultural integration.
Its election to the Security Council comes as Kuala Lumpur battles the flow of foreign terrorist fighters to groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Just this week, Malaysia arrested suspects with links to ISIS.
Malaysia also joins the Council after suffering two aviation tragedies that drew global attention: the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 and the downing of MH17 in Ukrainian airspace. The Security Council has tackled MH17 and called for justice for the nearly 300 victims on board.
This will be Malaysia’s fourth turn at the Council, with its previous terms in 1965, 1989 to 1990, and 1999 to 2000.
Venezuela, US clash post-election
New Zealand, Spain and Turkey all competed for only two seats allotted to their regional group.
New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully highlighted the significance of the election of the “small nation” to the Council.
“I want to express our appreciation to the UN membership. Our country is touched to be given this vote. We are a small nation. To receive the success we had means a lot to us. We will work hard to ensure good service in the Council,” he said.
In its campaign, New Zealand stressed its “consistent and independent foreign policy” and the lack of involvement in the conflicts on the Council’s agenda to show that it can be a fair member of a body often divided by the national interests of its members.
Venezuela also hailed its election to the Council, which the US did not oppose unlike in previous years. Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez said the socialist regime owed the victory to its late President Hugo Chavez.
Ramirez also took a swipe at the US in his remarks after the vote.
“The international community has [recognized] the fight of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela against the intervention of internal affairs of the states as well as the use of coercive and unilateral measures against countries – economic, political and other types to restrain the free will of the countries. Once again, it’s been demonstrated that the organization of international states belongs to all the countries,” Ramirez said.
US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power was quick to respond to Venezuela’s election.
“Unfortunately, Venezuela’s conduct at the UN has run counter to the spirit of the UN Charter and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the Charter’s letter. The United States will continue to call upon the government of Venezuela to respect the fundamental freedoms and universal human rights of its people,” Power said in a statement.
The new non-permanent members of the Council will replace Rwanda, South Korea, Argentina, Australia, South Korea and Luxembourg.
They will sit alongside permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia, and the US, which have the power to veto resolutions and hold the most influence in the Council.
The 15-member Council is tackling various grave crises, ranging from terrorism, the Ukraine crisis, extremists’ threats to peacekeeping operations, and Ebola.
Power said: “From ISIL and Ebola to Mali and the Central African Republic, the Security Council must meet its responsibilities by uniting to meet common threats. All members of the Council have an obligation to meet the expectations of those who have entrusted them with these critical responsibilities.”
Yet elections for the non-permanent seats followed the tradition of expensive and slick campaigning. Diplomats got so-called “swag bags” or goodies left on their seats before the voting started on Thursday morning.
The announcement of the results was also a festive affair, with Spain applauding and cheering on the floor as it got the last seat to the highly coveted Council. – Rappler.com
Rappler multimedia reporter Ayee Macaraig is a 2014 fellow of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists. She is in New York to cover the UN General Assembly, foreign policy, diplomacy, and world events.