UNITED NATIONS — The ambassador of the tiny Pacific Island nation of Fiji on Monday won a rare election for the post of president of the United Nations General Assembly, a position that has been the focus of a corruption scandal in the United States.
Ambassador Peter Thomson of Fiji narrowly defeated Andreas Mavroyiannis of Cyprus with 94 votes compared to Mavroyiannis’ 90 votes. The post is a largely ceremonial one, though it has a high profile and important procedural functions.
Normally a single candidate for assembly president is elected by consensus without a vote.
Speaking to reporters after the election, Thomson pledged to keep pushing for more transparency in the office of the assembly president after his predecessor from 2013 to 2014 was accused by U.S. authorities of taking $1.3 million in bribes from Chinese businessmen.
Thomson will oversee the process of searching for a new U.N. secretary-general to replace Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, who will finish his second five-year term in the post at the end of 2016.
The president of the 193-nation General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark, has attempted to make the process of electing a U.N. chief more transparent by organizing town hall-style meetings with candidates for the job.
The secretary-general is nominated by the 15-nation Security Council and confirmed by the General Assembly. It has traditionally been a secretive process with few chances for countries outside the Security Council to get much information about the candidates.
“I will be carrying on that legacy of his. We did suffer a terrible blow with what happened with that past PGA,” Thomson said, referring to former President of the General Assembly John Ashe.
“But this is not something that taints the U.N. in any way. These things happen.”
Ashe, the former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, is one of seven individuals charged since October in connection with the bribery scheme and is in plea talks, according to a court filing last month.
Earlier this year a U.N. task force recommended new ethical rules and financial disclosures for the General Assembly presidency’s office in the wake of the bribery allegations.
Thomson also said climate change would be a priority for him as it is for all small island states, which must confront the risk of rising sea levels due to global warming.