UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. General Assembly, in a rare contested election, chose Fiji's U.N. Ambassador on Monday as president of its 71st session beginning in September.
Ambassador Peter Thomson was one of two nominees for the year-long post along with Cyprus Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis. Thomson won in a close 94 to 90 vote with seven invalid ballots and one abstention.
Current assembly President Mogens Lykketoft announced the winner of the secret-ballot election as diplomats from the U.N.'s 193 member states burst into applause.
A former General Assembly vice president, Thomson said all members are bound together by the 17 U.N. goals adopted last September by world leaders to end poverty, promote development and equality, and preserve the environment.
"We have to implement that agenda," he said. "It's there for the good of our children and our grandchildren. Without it their future will be in jeopardy. With it we will have a sustainable place on this planet."
If progress isn't made on implementing all 17 goals by the time he leaves office in September 2017, Thomson said he should "be judged a failure."
Thomson said this is the first time in history that one of the Pacific small island developing countries has put up a candidate that succeeded in being elected president of the General Assembly. He said the Pacific islands bring their own special perspectives on climate change and on ocean issues.
"You can expect me to be vocal on those in the 71st session," he said.
Thomson said he began his career in rural development by building pit latrines, village water supplies and sea walls. He said the U.N. goals include all of those things. "So I've kind of come full circle," he said.
The largely ceremonial but prestigious UNGA presidency rotates annually between five geographic areas and this year it's the turn for an Asia-Pacific representative to head Assembly meetings.
Cyprus has historically been both geographically and culturally at the crossroads between Europe, Northern Africa and Western Asia, although many associate it with Europe because it is a member of the European Union. However, in the U.N. organizational framework, Cyprus is part of the Asia-Pacific region.
Thomson acknowledged that his victory may have been in part due to the fact that Fiji is located squarely in the Asia-Pacific region, and because it is a developing country from the south, not from the more developed north.
"The Eastern European group will provide the president for the 72nd session, so that's likely to be another (European Union) country," Thomson said. "So yes I think the U.N. is all about balance, getting that north-south balance right but in the end the ballot box spoke."
Lykketoft, Denmark's former parliament speaker, also served as the northern European country's foreign minister and finance minister. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated him on his accomplishments so far as UNGA president, including the General Assembly's adoption this month of an action-oriented political declaration on ending AIDS and for bringing transparency to the selection process for the next secretary-general.
Ban said Thomson is a staunch advocate of both sustainable development and climate action. "I count on him to help us carry out both the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change," he said.
Mavroyiannis is chief negotiator for Greek Cypriots in negotiations to reunify the ethnically divided island. Cyprus has been split into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north since 1974.