UNITED NATIONS -- There is one election this year in which most candidates won't announce they are running. Nearly all the campaigning, or noncampaigning, will go on behind closed doors. More than likely, the winner will be decided before the voting takes place. The prize: the title of United Nations secretary-general.
At the end of this year, Boutros Boutros-Ghali will complete a five-year term as the world's top diplomat, crisis administrator and -- some would say -- scapegoat. Surprisingly, a lot of people seem to want his job, including him, although he's not saying.
To further complicate matters, the renewal of Mr. Boutros-Ghali's term or the selection of a new U.N. secretary-general is a decision that is directly linked to the U.S. presidential election.
Many diplomats believe that the United States will not make its preference known until after November. But some U.S. officials say it will be just a matter of weeks before the White House makes the only decision that really matters: whether to invite Mr. Boutros-Ghali to stay or go.
The post of secretary-general is an oddball job. The U.N. charter specifies only that the person in that job -- "appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council" -- shall be the organization's chief administrative officer.
If he tries to strengthen his own image or that of the organization, he draws immediate fire from powerful member nations, most often the United States. He is a leader who is not allowed to lead.
Gareth Evans, Australia's foreign minister, is in the non-running, as is President Mary Robinson of Ireland. So are Prime Minister Gro Harlem Bruntland of Norway and Juan Somavia, who represents Chile at the United Nations and has been active in trying to steer the organization toward more global social issues.
Two Africans are often mentioned: Kofi Annan of Ghana, an insider who has headed U.N. peacekeeping operations; and South African Richard Goldstone, chief justice of the international War Crimes Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.