Meet Abdulla Shahid, New UN General Assembly President 

Foreign Minister of the Maldives, Abdulla Shahid, was on Monday elected the next President of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly. 

This is a post held on an annual basis, rotated among various regional groupings. The 76th session (2021-22) is the turn of the Asia-Pacific group. This is the first time that the Maldives will be occupying the office of the President of the UN General Assembly.

The Maldives had announced Shahid’s candidature in December 2018. At that time, no other candidate was in the fray. Shahid is eminently qualified to hold the top office of UN General Assembly, with vast diplomatic experience and strong credentials, especially in the multilateral fora.

India announced its support for Shahid during the visit of foreign secretary Harsh Shringla to the Maldives in November 2020. Even at that time, he was the only candidate in the fray.

Union External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar on Monday took to Twitter to congratulate Shahid on his selection.

This is a testimony as much to his own stature as to the standing of Maldives. We look forward to working with him to strengthen multilateralism and its much needed reforms.

In mid-January 2021, in a surprising development and with less than six months before the elections, Afghanistan’s foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul entered the fray. While Rassoul also has strong credentials, by the time his candidature was announced, the Maldives had already garnered extensive support. Moreover, the island nation has never held the office of General Assembly, while Afghanistan held this post during the 21st GA session in 1966-67.

In response to media queries on remarks made by President of the United Nations General Assembly with respect to Jammu and Kashmir, the official spokesperson said, “We express our strong opposition to the unwarranted references made with respect to the Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir by the President of the United Nations General Assembly (PGA) Volkan Bozkir during his recent visit to Pakistan.

His remarks that Pakistan is “duty bound” to raise this issue in the UN more strongly are unacceptable. Nor indeed is there any basis for comparison to other global situations.

When an incumbent President of the UN General Assembly makes misleading and prejudiced remarks, he does great disservice to the office he occupies. The UNGA President’s behaviour is truly regrettable and surely diminishes his standing on the global platform.”

Both the Maldives and Afghanistan have excellent relations with India, and both candidates are friends of India. However, since India had already committed its support to Maldives at a time when no other candidate was in the fray, India voted in favour of Maldives.

The office of UNGA President is the highest office in the UN System, and reflects the collective goodwill of the 193 Member States of the UN. India remains committed to supporting the office, as it has consistently done in previous years.

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, who welcomes the development says, ”Abdulla 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.”

He commended the President-elect for his “selection of hope as the central theme in his vision statement and noted that, coming from a small island developing State, Shahid will “bring unique insights” to the Assembly as the world prepares for the UN climate conference, COP26 in Glasgow in November.

In what was a contested election, featuring former Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, Shahid garnered 143 votes, to Rassoul’s 48.

“I also want to express my deep appreciation to Dr. Zalmai Rassoul and thank him for contributing to this dynamic process”, added the UN chief.

During the meeting, the Secretary-General also drew the lots to determine the Member State that will occupy the first seat in the Assembly Hall in September, which went to Suriname.

The top UN official also expressed his “deep appreciation” to  Volkan Bozkir for his “exceptional leadership” as Assembly President during the 75th anniversary session.

“As our most representative organ, the General Assembly is the foundation of all our work at the United Nations, and essential to our effectiveness as an Organisation”, he said. “In 2021, the world needs that effectiveness more than ever”.

On May 6, Bozkir had convened informal interactive dialogues in the General Assembly Hall – as mandated in resolution 71/323 – in which the candidates responded to the questions submitted earlier by civil society and other representatives.

”I wholeheartedly congratulate Abdulla Shahid on his election as the next President of the UN General Assembly”, said the incumbent President, reminding that the President-elect has been “a strong voice” for the small island developing States.

The outgoing President also recognized ”the strong candidacy” of Mr. Zalmai Rassoul, saying that his “extensive experience in multilateral diplomacy” and ”comprehensive vision” has “earned the respect of Member States”.

”At this important time in his country’s history, the international community’s support for Afghanistan’s long journey towards democracy is as essential as ever”, said Bozkir, extending his best wishes to Rassoul’s continued success as Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

A world in mourning

The UN chief said that millions of people are mourning the losses of loved ones to the COVID-19 pandemic in a crisis that has “dealt a body blow to communities, societies and economies”.

“Until everyone, everywhere has access to vaccines, it continues to pose an enormous threat”, he stressed.

The 76th Assembly will “grapple with the impact of the pandemic across the three pillars of our work: peace, sustainable development, and human rights”, said Guterres, wishing Shahid “every success in his task”.

The UN chief closed by offering the President-elect his “full support” and that of “the entire Secretariat” in reaching shared goals and upholding universal values.

In the mean time, messages of support and congratulations echoed across social media, including from the World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said he looked forward to working with Mr. Shahid “to end the COVID19 pandemic and towards health for all”.

Other elected officials

The chairs for the six main UN Committees were also elected.

Omar Hilale of Morocco will head the First Committee, which deals with disarmament; Vanessa Frazier of Malta will chair the Second Committee on Economic and Financial matters; and Djibouti’s Mohamed Siad Doualeh will lead the Third Committee, which covers human rights, humanitarian affairs and social matters.

Chairing the Fourth Committee on Special Political and Decolonization will be Egriselda Aracely González López of El Salvador; Mher Margaryan of Armenia will head the Fifth Committee on administrative and budgetary matters; and Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani of Qatar will lead the Sixth Committee, charged with international law and other legal matter.

 

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