UN votes to fill coveted Security Council seats

The United Nations voted on Thursday to pick five new members to the Security Council, with New Zealand, Spain and Turkey locked in a tight race for seats at the world`s "top table."

Angola, Venezuela and Malaysia are virtually assured to win support from the 193-nation UN General Assembly as they are running unopposed from their region.

That left two seats to be filled by the three competing countries which sent their foreign ministers to New York this week to lead a last-ditch lobbying campaign for votes.

For the contenders, a council seat is the ultimate diplomatic prize, raising a country`s profile several notches, boosting influence and providing knockoff benefits in bilateral ties.

General Assembly president Sam Kutesa opened the voting shortly after 1400 GMT with a first round of secret ballots distributed to the delegates, which were then collected for counting. 

Countries must garner support from two-thirds of those present to win a seat.

New Zealand`s Prime Minister John Key sounded upbeat ahead of the elections, the culminating moment of years of campaigning for the country.

"It`s been a 10-year campaign, we`ve run a very good campaign and we`ve done everything we possibly can," Key told reporters in Wellington.

"We`re seen as a good, honest, trustworthy country that brings its independent foreign policy to the table."

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with General Assembly leaders this week to push his bid which is expected to garner support from Muslim countries.

Spain`s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo has pointed to his country`s peacekeeping contribution in the campaign that saw King Felipe discuss the bid when he met with President Barack Obama in New York last month.The elections come at a busy time for the council, which is grappling with crises on many fronts, from the jihadist offensive in Iraq and Syria, to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Russia`s actions in east Ukraine, conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and Central African Republic and the faltering Israeli-Palestinian peace process are also at the top of the council`s agenda.

The five elected countries to the 15-member council will join the five permanent powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- for a two-year term.

Five other countries elected last year are mid-way into their term. These are Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania and Nigeria.

As the most powerful body of the United Nations, the Security Council can impose sanctions on countries and individuals, refer suspects for war crimes prosecution, endorse peace accords and authorize the use of force.

It also oversees 16 peacekeeping missions in the world, with a budget of close to $8 billion.

Rights groups have singled out Venezuela`s entry to the council as a cause for worry, pointing to its record of voting in support of Syria, Iran and Belarus at the UN Human Rights Council.

"Without question, they had one of the worst voting records. They were opposed to very important resolutions on Sri Lanka, Iran, Belarus," said Philippe Bolopion, Human Rights Watch`s UN director.

Some European diplomats also see Venezuela as a difficult member on the new council that will begin its work in January.

Others, however, caution that the council`s agenda still remains very much in the hands of the so-called P5 and that divisions over Syria, east Ukraine and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remain unchanged.

The five elected countries will replace Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, Rwanda and South Korea.

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