The List: Who Wants to Lead the United Nations?

From Geneva to New York, diplomats’ favorite parlor game is already under way: Name the next U.N. secretary-general. Kofi Annan will step down at the end of the year, and the race is on to succeed him. Who will be tapped for the top job? FP takes a look at some of the early leaders in the race.

Jayantha Dhanapala

Why hell get the job: The Sri Lankan presidential advisor is one of three menall Asianwho have openly thrown their hats into the ring. Traditionally, the post has rotated from region to region, and Asia is next in line. (The last Asian who held the post was U Thant of Burma, whose term expired in 1971.) Considered by many in the diplomatic community to be the front-runner, the former under secretary-general for disarmament knows how to navigate the United Nations inside and out. The 67-year-old also has the right temperament for the job: Hes self-effacing, likeable, and effective. In addition to Sinhalese, French, and English, he also speaks Mandarin, which should be a big plus with Beijing.

Why he wont: When the pressing issue facing the world body is reform, being a familiar face at the United Nations may be a strike against him. After 10 years of Kofi Annan, the ultimate U.N. insider, the Security Council could want someone from outside the system. Also, as the former secretary-general of the Sri Lankan peace process, Dhanapalas chances may be hurt by the rising conflict between the Singhalese and the Tamils on his island nation.

Odds: 6 to 1

Ban Ki Moon

Why hell get the job: South Koreas minister of foreign affairs and trade has been spending a lot of time campaigning in New York lately. Sixty-one-year-old Ban, a lifelong diplomat, is well liked by the United States and China, which, as permanent members of the Security Council, have veto power over any candidate. Also, Bans prominent role in North Koreas six-party talks has raised his diplomatic profile at the right time.

Why he wont: Some argue the nuclear talks are so important, the Security Council might prefer that he stay on the Korean Peninsula and see the negotiations through, without the distraction of the rest of the worlds problems. Plus, Asia isnt united behind Bans bid; Southeast Asia wants one of its own to get the corner office.

Odds: 15 to 2

Surakiart Sathirathai

Why hell get the job: The deputy prime minister and former foreign minister of Thailand was the first candidate to openly campaign for the U.N. secretary-general post. The job has traditionally gone to a citizen of a nonaligned country, and Surakiart fits that bill. Plus, he has the most support from Asia. All 10 member nations of ASEAN have endorsed his candidacy.

Why he wont: Surakiart, an early favorite, might have been campaigning a little too aggressively, a little too early. Controversial Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Surakiarts biggest champion, could also be his downfall. His crackdown on Muslims in southern Thailand doesnt play well among Muslim U.N. members. Surakiart has also expressed public opposition to the International Criminal Court. And, at only 47 years old, some may believe hes a little too young to lead the world body.

Odds: 15 to 2

Kemal Dervis

Why hell get the job: Kofi Annan has said the next U.N. leader should be Asian. The United States has said the most-qualified candidate should get the job. Others have suggested that since Eastern Europe has emerged as a power in its own right, it deserves a shot at the top spot. As a Turkish citizen, the 57-year-old well-respected World Bank alum could be the perfect compromise candidate. And as head of the U.N. Development Programme since August, hes already earned respect for running an efficient program. Consider Dervis to be at the top of the dark-horse list.

Why he wont: He says he doesnt want it. Then again, the United Nations first secretary-general, Norways Trygve Lie, also said he didnt want the top spot.

Odds: 12 to 1

Aleksander Kwasniewski

Why hell get the job: The 51-year-old Eastern European has all the trimmings of a world leaderhes young, energetic, telegenic, and a former head of state. By securing membership in NATO and cultivating closer ties with the European Union (EU), the former president of Poland proved that he understands how international institutions work. Plus, the reformed communist backed U.S. President George W. Bush in invading Iraq.

Why he wont: He backed U.S. President George W. Bush in invading Iraq. Its hard to imagine the French forgiving that. Besides, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has privately said that theres no way hed allow Kwasniewski to take the post.

Odds: 18 to 1

Vaira Vike-Freiberga

Why shell get the job: Nicknamed the Baltic Iron Lady, Vike-Freiberga is the only female candidate whose name has been seriously bandied about. The 68-year-old Latvian president has an impressive record for someone whos been in politics for only seven years, getting Latvia across the NATO and EU finish line. She has a compelling personal story, too. A psychologist by training, she was born in Latvia and spent her early years in German refugee camps before immigrating to Canada. She returned to Latvia in 1998 to run a government information agency, and ran for president as an independent the following year.

Why she wont: Russia.

Odds: 20 to 1

Bill Clinton

Why hell get the job: Everybody loves Bubba. Since leaving office in 2001, the former U.S. president has circumnavigated the globe countless times, spreading goodwill, helping tsunami victims in Southeast Asia, raising money to combat AIDS, and glad-handing everyone and everything within sight. He loves to talk. He loves to give speeches. He loves to hold court. What wouldnt he like about the job?

Why he wont: Hes American. The U.N. secretary-general has never come from a permanent member of the Security Council. Plus, the current president and Hillary may not agree about much, but neither wants to see the former president steal their thunder.

Odds: 1000 to 1