After decades of secrecy and backroom deals, countries and civil society are pushing for a transparent process to elect a new leader for the United Nations, so the organization can become more connected and relevant to the people it's supposed to represent.

What's undisputed is that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's second term in office coming to an end in December 2016, meaning the UN is looking for its next chief.

What's disputed is the way the position has been filled, usually by five world powers engaged in secret negotiations. This time around, other countries want to have a say in the decision.

Proponents of the reform say that opening up the process by providing a clear job description, a list of required qualifications and a shortlist of candidates would result in the election of a leader who could strengthen the position of the secretary general and the UN system as a whole.

Most of those in favour of reform are quick to point out that they do not want to undermine the legacies of previous secretaries general, but that a more transparent process could give more legitimacy to the post and empower the UN chief to stand up to world powers.

Pakistani human rights lawyer and activist Hina Jilani, one of The Elders, a group of independent global leaders formed by former South African president Nelson Mandela, said that a strong secretary general could fulfil the duty to uphold human rights even if it means going against countries' national interests.

"A secretary who is elected by a process which is more participatory would give the perception in the United Nations that he really represents the interests of the people - not necessarily the people, but the interests of the people," Jilani told dpa.

"He has a duty to perform ... going beyond interests of the member states but in the interest of world peace, so he should be the one upholding the principle."

Natalie Samarasinghe, executive director of the United Nations Association–UK and the co-founder of the 1 for 7 Billion campaign, said the current system is not set up to deliver a UN chief fit to deal with global challenges.

"I think people assume that an organization that's as big as the UN has standards such as a job description, a timetable and a shortlist, and when they hear that it doesn't, they wonder, 'Well, why? What's behind it?'" Samarasinghe told dpa.

"And it ultimately creates a division between people and the UN."

According to the UN Charter, the secretary general is elected by the General Assembly, which includes all 193 UN member states, per the recommendation of the UN Security Council.

In reality, this means that the five veto-wielding members of the council - China, Britain, France, Russia and the US - decide on one candidate in secret negotiations and present the name to the assembly.

Bargaining often includes promises by candidates and their countries of trade deals, political favours and appointments for key UN positions.

While Britain and France are in support of reform, China, Russia and the US have been more reluctant to overhaul the process.

Minna-Liina Lind, Estonia's deputy ambassador to the UN, whose country is part of a group of nations calling for a new process, said world powers are increasingly faced with the pressure for transparency, which is a result of the world itself becoming more transparent through democracy and the use of social media.

"For some countries, some permanent members, the system so far has been ideal," Lind said.

"But then they also started realizing that actually there's a need for a little bit of change to adapt the situation to nowadays, to 2015, and to the expectations."

Lind said she was optimistic about current trends, including a resolution passed by the General Assembly in September requesting the Security Council inform countries about the selection criteria and the status of the process.

In a December 15 letter, the Security Council committed to a transparent process including circulating the names of candidates to other member states and promising to make its recommendation for the post "in a timely manner."

Samarasinghe said a better election process would also result in the most qualified people being appointed for key UN positions, which could eventually set in motion a renewal of the UN system.

"It would be a symbol that reform is possible, and I think it could - over time - influence other working methods, improvements at the Security Council," she noted.

Those seeking to reform the process agree that the candidates' qualifications should be the most important criteria for election.

Additionally, many point out that it is high time for a woman to hold the top position of the 70-year-old organization, which has had eight male leaders.

"Everything else being equal, I would think that it would make sense to give preference to a woman," Jilani said.

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.