The United Nations last month started the process for selecting its next secretary-general with open dialogue involving nine candidates who want to replace Ban Ki-moon in January 2017. In what General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft called a "potential game-changing exercise," the nine candidates — five men and four women — stood separately before the entire U.N. membership for a two-hour session to answer questions from various groups of member states, as well as civil society. Never in its 70-year history has the process been so transparent.

Officially called an "informal dialogue," this was organized by the General Assembly president in a bid to bring much-needed transparency to the selection and appointment of the secretary-general, who the U.N. Charter simply says "shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council." Candidates for the top U.N. job have traditionally been screened behind the closed doors of the Security Council, where the veto-wielding five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, commonly known as "P-5," — hold decisive power over who to recommend to the General Assembly. The General Assembly has in turn rubber-stamped the candidate recommended by the Security Council. This practice has invited growing criticism not only from within the U.N. but also people throughout the world who want the best candidate, and not someone politically acceptable to the P-5.

The historic three-day dialogue session was broadcast live via U.N. Web TV throughout the world. Highlighting its importance, Lykketoft said: "For the first time in this organization's 70-year history, the process for selecting and appointing the next secretary-general is being genuinely guided by principles of transparency and inclusiveness."