|Irina Bokova. (Xinhua-Yonhap News)|
PARIS (AFP) ― UNESCO has voted its director general Irina Bokova to a second term in office, a spokeswoman for the U.N. agency told AFP on Friday.
The Bulgarian was re-elected despite a tough challenge from two rivals ― the Djiboutian ambassador to France, Rachad Farah, and Lebanese academic Joseph Maila.
“Irina Bokova received 39 votes, Rachad Farah 13 votes and Joseph Maila six,” said spokeswoman Lucia Iglesia Kuntz.
The 61-year-old Bokova, who was the favorite to win, needed 30 votes out of 58 to be assured of victory.
The election took place at a time when UNESCO has been cash-strapped due to a U.S. freeze on funds over admitting Palestine as a member.
A former foreign minister, Bokova was elected to head the U.N. cultural organization in 2009.
She has defended her stint but both Farah and Maila argued that the body has lost its main objective ― to maintain world peace through culture.
Washington stopped aid to UNESCO after the body admitted Palestine as its 195th member in 2011 ― a loss of 22 percent of the budget which has now fallen to $507 million from $653 million earlier.
“The financial crisis is behind us,” Bokova said recently, arguing that the body had been able to maintain its programs.
But she expressed concern over the tighter budget saying it was “a derisory amount in respect of our mandate.”
About 300 officials risk being laid off due to the whittled budget. UNESCO last year had 1,200 employees based in its Paris headquarters and 900 others deployed worldwide.
France’s Court of Auditors charged with conducting financial and legislative audits of most public institutions, has been scathing in its criticism of UNESCO saying the “unexpected nature (of the fund freeze) could not justify the organization’s state of unpreparedness.”
But other reports ― notably by Britain and Australia ― had voiced general approval of Bokova’s tenure.