Maldives FM elected new president of UN General Assembly

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Abdulla Shahid, Maldivian Foreign Minister and candidate for the presidency of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), addresses the UNGA informal interactive dialogue with the candidate for the position of president of the General Assembly for the 76th session at the UN headquarters in New York on May 6, 2021. [UN Photo/Handout via Xinhua]

The foreign minister of the Maldives, Abdulla Shahid, was on Monday elected the president of the upcoming 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

He was elected by secret ballot in which he defeated his challenger, former Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul. Shahid won the support of 143 of the 191 UN member states present and voting. Rassoul won 48 votes. A candidate needs at least 96 votes to get elected.

Shahid promised "a presidency of hope" in his campaign. In his speech to a General Assembly plenary session after his election on Monday, Shahid said his first priority as president of the General Assembly will be recovery from COVID-19.

"I will be looking to address the health of our people and our economies and work to ensure vaccine equity. We need to vaccinate the entire world. No one is safe until everyone is safe," he told the General Assembly.

"We need to rebuild sustainably. Our decade of action (for sustainable development) will now also have to be a decade of recovery, focusing on building back better, building back stronger, and building back greener and bluer," he said.

Shahid also promised to tackle challenges such as climate change, ocean decay, biodiversity loss; to respect the rights of all people; and to revitalize the United Nations to make it transparent, efficient, effective, and accountable.

"We approached the 76th session in challenging times. Disease, despair and devastation have characterized the past year. Inequality, injustice and instability have increased. The environment, the ocean, our planet is suffering. But we need to get moving again: rebuild communities, rescue the planet, recover economies, about all, restore hope. We need to move to a different normal," he said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres congratulated Shahid on his election.

Shahid's long-standing diplomatic experience, including in his current role as foreign minister, has given him a deep understanding of the importance of multilateralism in addressing today's global challenges, he told the General Assembly after Shahid's election.

Coming from a small island developing state, Shahid will bring unique insights to the 76th session of the General Assembly, as the world is preparing for the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021, he said.

"On behalf of the entire Secretariat, I wish the president-elect the greatest possible success. We look forward to working with him when he assumes his duties in September (2021). You can count on my full support, as we strive to reach our shared goals and uphold universal values," Guterres told Shahid.

"As our most representative organ, the General Assembly is the foundation of all our work at the United Nations, and essential to our effectiveness as an organization. In 2021, the world needs that effectiveness more than ever," he added.

China's permanent representative to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, tweeted his congratulations on Shahid's election.

"Warmest congrats to H.E. @abdulla_shahid for being elected as PGA of the 76th session. Look forward to close cooperation with you in pursuing true #multilateralism, maintaining peace and promoting development, in particular, fighting #COVID19 & implementing #SDGs," wrote Zhang in his message.

Shahid will assume his duties as General Assembly president in September 2021. He will replace Volkan Bozkir of Turkey.

Shahid, 59, has been the Maldives' foreign minister since 2018. He first held the post in 2007-2008. Between 2009 and 2014, he was the speaker of the unicameral house of parliament. He was educated in Australia and the United States and holds a master's degree in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University.

Shahid is married with three children.

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