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UNWTO elections did not reflect fair competition, says Bahrain's nominee

MANAMA, January 24, 2021

Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, President of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (BACA) and Bahrain’s candidate for Secretary General of the United Nations World Trade Organization (UNWTO), said that the recent elections were held under difficult circumstances and in an atmosphere that did not reflect fair competition, a report said.
 
The elections for the Secretary-General of the UNWTO for the 2022-2025 term were held on January 19, on the sidelines of the 113th session of the UNWTO’s Executive Council, news agency BNA reported. 
 
Shaikha Mai, a trailblazer in sustainability through heritage preservation, and an influential Arab woman in global tourism with decades of public-private leadership and funding strategies, and Zurab Pololikashvili, the incumbent secretary general from Georgia, were the two contenders for the post of the Madrid-based international organisation, the report said.
 
Shaikha Mai highlighted that the election was brought forward from its usual date in May to January and the submission of candidatures from its normal date at the end of March 2021 to November 17 - a move that tightened the nomination and campaign timeframe.
 
It did not give the member countries sufficient time to approve candidacies and made it difficult for candidates to carry out appropriate election campaign and compete, depriving them of ample time in light of the pandemic and the end-of-year holiday season.
 
The move was criticized by two UNWTO chiefs who served at the UN’s tourism arm for a combined 20 years, Francesco Frangialli (from 1998 to 2010) and Dr. Taleb Rifai (from 2010 to 2017), and who published a vitriolic statement denouncing the change to the election date, the report said.
 
Bahrain was the only country that succeeded to present a real candidacy, while other potential candidates had not been able to submit their application.
 
Shaikha Mai, the first woman vying for the UNWTO top post, said that despite the result, she was happy to have represented Bahrain in the global event. 
 
“I extend my sincere thanks and gratitude to His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and to His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, who honoured me with their trust to run for the post of UNWTO secretary general," she said.
 
Shaikha Mai also thanked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Communication Center as well as the countries that supported her candidature. 
 
"I will continue to work locally, regionally and globally to support the tourism sector and upgrade the tourism cultural infrastructure in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and boost local communities," Shaikha Mai said.



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