Turkey and Austria pushed out Iceland for the two rotating seats that are reserved for the mostly European bloc. Iceland had lobbied hard, although its financial crisis had raised questions about its candidacy. Turkey won 151 votes and Austria 133, surpassing in the first round of voting the 128 votes required for the two-thirds majority out of 192 votes cast.
In the race for the single available Asian rotating seat, Japan easily defeated Iran by 158 votes to 32.
They join Uganda, for Africa, and Mexico in taking up the five rotating seats on the 15-seat Security Council for the 2009 and 2010 sessions.
The Security Council vote is hotly contested. Even as members grumble about the diminished relevancy of a Security Council designed circa World War II, more and more nations seek to wield the influence gained by winning a seat at the Council’s iconic horseshoe-shaped table.
The day of voting is one of the few days in the organization’s calendar when the atmosphere in the United Nations becomes electric, and everyone shows up. Candidates must achieve a two-thirds majority among voting nations to win a seat.
It is a time of intense lobbying by candidates, and the results are not always predictable. Most ambassadors overestimate the number of votes they will receive because everyone promises to vote for them.
Regions try to create consensus around one candidate to avoid a bruising vote. Uganda has been anointed for the Africa seat this year, and Mexico for Latin America. Most diplomats had expected Japan to win the contest for the Asian seat easily.
But Iran argued that it deserved the spot, having not been on the Council since 1956, while Japan has served nine times, the last ending in 2006.
Diplomats said that Iran was a long shot, noting the country’s standoff with the Security Council over the nuclear issue, with three rounds of sanctions against it. Nobody wanted to repeat the experience with Rwanda in the early 1990s, when it used its seat to hinder resolutions aimed at the violence there.
Iran ran a low-key campaign. Despite the likelihood of a humiliating loss, it refused to withdraw from the ballot on the insistence of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, diplomats said.
The intention to win a seat is often announced a decade in advance. It is a bit like applying for a prestigious college: You have to prove you are well rounded. At the United Nations, that means first showing active interest in peace and security issues. (Turkey contributes personnel for peacekeeping operations in four countries.).
Second, you must show you are working to improve the environment and alleviate poverty. (Iceland’s literature highlighted pictures of third world students attending its geothermal training program.)
Events can create turbulence around the most carefully choreographed campaigns, however. Witness Iceland and its financial crisis. It joined the United Nations in 1946, but decided only in 1998 to join the rotation of the other Nordic states on the Security Council.
The other candidates had issues, too. Austria’s anti-immigrant, far-right parties won almost a third of the vote in September parliamentary elections. Ambassador Gerhard Pfanzelter has tried to counter any doubts by noting that Austria has a historical commitment to the United Nations, hosting important organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency and serving as a bridge between combative nations since the cold war.
Turkey last held a Security Council seat in 1961. Ambassador Baki Ilkin argued that Turkey’s time was due and that its geographic position at the crossroads between the turbulent Middle East, the turbulent Caucasus and the turbulent Balkans made it ideal to lend regional sensitivities to important Council deliberations.Every country has an equal vote, so none were considered too small to lobby. Nauru and Tuvalu and Palau pulled the same weight as the five permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France — that never have to run.