Before the beginning of 2007, the United Nations must elect a replacement for outgoing Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Candidates can declare their intention to run but risk the disdain of fellow diplomats if they publicly campaign for the post. After reviewing the candidates, members of the Security Council conduct straw polls among themselves to gauge support for a candidate, with each contender receiving an "encouragement" or "discouragement." The discouraged are expected to quietly quit the race.
The candidate who secures the backing of all five permanent members of the Security Council and at least two other votes advances to the General Assembly. The majority vote in the larger body is usually a formality because the Security Council usually sends only one candidate forward.
No candidate can come from a country that is a Security Council permanent member. This year, a candidate from Asia will be the odds-on favorite because the secretary-generalship follows an unwritten rule of regional rotation. Five contenders are profiled below.
Indian U.N. undersecretary-general for communications and public information
Nearing his 30th year at the United Nations, Tharoor is also a prolific writer and novelist.
Prince Zeid Raad Hussein
Jordanian ambassador and permanent representative of Jordan to the U.N.
Hussein has overseen some of the U.N.'s most ambitious attempts at expansion and reform, serving as the first president governing the International Criminal Court and drafting a unanimously supported plan to end sexual abuse by U.N. forces.
South Korean minister of foreign affairs
After diplomatic stints in New Delhi and Washington, Ban climbed his way to the top of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and served as president of the U.N. General Assembly as it responded to 9/11.
Senior advisor to the president of Sri Lanka
Dhanapala is a former U.N. secretary-general of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process in Sri Lanka. He has devoted much of his diplomatic career to matters of disarmament, including negotiating the extension of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1995.
Thailand's deputy prime minister
Sathirathai brings extensive private-sector experience to the secretary-general race -- he was chairman of a bank, founding partner of a commercial law firm and head of Thailand's national petroleum enterprise.
- SWATI PANDEY