Bulgaria's ambassador to Paris Irina Bokova, 57, defeated Egypt's culture minister Farouk Hosni yesterday (22 September) in a final round of voting for the post of UNESCO director-general.
Bokova secured 31 of the executive board's 58 votes to Hosni's 27.
After five rounds of voting, during which seven other candidates were forced to withdraw, Bokova was declared the winner. She could become UNESCO's first woman director general if she is endorsed at next month's general assembly when all 193 members will meet to vote.
While some diplomats say confirmation of the post by the assembly has always been automatic, Tosho Peikov, a Bulgarian politician and secretary-general of the Bulgaria Fund, told the Bulgarian media that she could meet "serious resistance" from African and Asian countries — who had not wanted a Western leader — during the confirmation process.
Bokova says she visited some 45 countries in the months leading up to the vote including UNESCO regional offices in Chile, India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Pakistan and Thailand. In speeches to the executive board, she has outlined her priorities as education and Africa. She is less specific about science.
"UNESCO should become the leader and mobiliser of governments, specialised agencies and the scientific community in the field of science, innovation and new technologies — including green technologies — under the slogan 'Science and technology serving humanity'," Bokova said in a speech to the UNESCO board.
"Climate change, biodiversity, mitigation of natural disasters, water resources management, energy and pandemics are the new key challenges in science which should be given priority in UNESCO's programmes."
To raise the profile of science around the world Bokova also proposes a science advisory body comprising eminent scientists including Nobel laureates and UNESCO prize winners.