Commonwealth members on June 24 voted to keep Patricia Scotland as the SecretaryGeneral of the 54-nation club after some members, including Britain, tried to oust her.
Scotland defeated Jamaica’s Foreign Affairs and Trade minister Kamina Johnson by winning 27 votes, against the latter’s 24.
Born in Dominica and raised in Britain, Scotland had a career as a lawyer and politician in Britain before taking up the post of the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth in 2016.
Her term was supposed to finish in 2020, but was extended because the Commonwealth summit scheduled for that year could not take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. After a twoyear delay, it is now taking place in the Rwandan capital.
Having served six years instead of four, she will now serve a second term of just two years.
Scotland said her reappointment was deeply humbling. “To continue to serve our family of nations is a true honour and a privilege and I will do so to the best of my ability,” she said. “To seek high office is a profound act of service and I want to commend my colleagues who also sought to serve,” she added.
In her speech to the opening ceremony of the summit, which she delivered ahead of the vote, she had sounded confident about continuing in the role. “I am determined that, when the role of Secretary-General rotates to Africa two years from now, I will hand on the baton with a stronger, more effective, more powerful Commonwealth than ever before,” she said.
Her challenger Smith conceded defeat in a Tweet. “If I didn’t pull through, God wasn’t ready for me to leave Jamaica yet!” she wrote. “I continue to serve, and of course, sincere congratulations to Baroness Scotland,” she said.
The contest, according to global media reports, has created a rift between members of the Commonwealth in particular Africa, the Caribbean and the wealthier members of the bloc. In part, the split is due to a highly visible and contentious battle for the post largely created by the current chair of the Commonwealth — Britain — which publicly endorsed Johnson.
The support for Johnson was reportedly criticised by the UK’s opposition Labour shadow foreign minister David Lammy a month ago. “The chair of the Commonwealth is supposed to maintain neutrality and confidentiality. No chair has ever done this in Commonwealth history. It’s unseemly and divisive,” Lammy said.
Under the Commonwealth voting system that prioritises consensus, all members must agree on a candidate or one cannot be declared winner. A Commonwealth Secretary-General can serve a maximum of two terms of four years each.
In June 2020, UK communicated that a “significant and diverse number” of heads of government from across the Commonwealth were opposed to the idea of Scotland being automatically reappointed for another four years without facing re-election. The decision was deferred to Chogm this year in Kigali. They agreed to temporarily extend her appointment to June 27, 2022.
Analysts said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s campaign against the incumbent could have been counterproductive for the body that often projects itself as united. “The UK is behaving like it is still a colonial master — divide and rule. Some countries are opposed to Scotland but also disagree with the UK’s open campaign against the incumbent,” sources were quoted saying in media reports.
While the bid to oust Scotland has failed, the vote exposes a deeply divided Commonwealth under her leadership which has been marred by questions over her financial management, personal style and accusations of playing favourites among the group of nations.
Australia, UK and New Zealand, at one stage, withdrew funding from the Commonwealth Secretariat. They, along with Canada and India were pushing for her removal, said the media reports.