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The United Nations will proceed with plans to begin Security Council elections on June 17, when member states will take part in an unprecedented physically distanced voting process to respect COVID-19 restrictions.

Canada is running against Norway and Ireland for one of 10 rotating non-permanent seats in 2021-22 on the UN’s most powerful branch. Louise Blais, Canada’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, said the government welcomes the decision to go ahead on June 17 after speculation the elections could be delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re really pleased that the UN has found a way to conduct the voting while protecting the health of UN delegations and UN staff, yet ensuring the integrity of the process,” Ms. Blais said in an interview.

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Delegations from the countries running for a Security Council seat met with the President of the UN General Assembly, Nigeria’s Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, on Monday to discuss the logistics of the votes. They decided the elections would still be held in the horseshoe-shaped assembly chamber at UN headquarters in New York, but will be staggered, likely over a number of days, according to Ms. Blais.

“That was welcomed by everyone because it’s a huge space and it sticks closer to tradition,” she said.

The UN is aiming to have about 20 country representatives enter the chamber per hour to cast their ballot on June 17. At that pace, it will take all 193 member states nearly 10 hours to complete a single round of voting.

However, multiple rounds are expected, meaning it could take days to determine who wins the five non-permanent regional seats up for grabs. Ms. Blais said the President of the General Assembly agreed to ensure subsequent rounds of voting be held within 20 hours of the previous vote to keep the process moving.

Candidate countries, including Canada, asked Mr. Muhammad-Bande to allow representatives of their missions to attend the votes so they can see which member states show up. Ms. Blais said he is considering the suggestion, but has not decided yet.

Ms. Blais said Canada also called for effective communication on the logistics of the elections so member states don’t miss their opportunity to cast their ballot.

In normal circumstances, representatives of all 193 member states would gather in the chamber at the same time for the Security Council elections, placing their paper ballots in wooden boxes around the room. If multiple rounds were required, subsequent votes took place on the floor within minutes; the winners would usually be declared on the same day.

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But with the potential for days’ worth of voting starting on June 17, Canada and its competitors will be forced to reconsider their ground game.

Adam Chapnick, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and the author of Canada on the United Nations Security Council, said candidate countries will be reviewing their second-ballot strategy, which usually involves staff working the room between voting rounds to garner support for the next ballot.

“Whatever second-ballot strategies people have used in the past are largely useless,” Prof. Chapnick said.

A senior Canadian official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said mission staff will work the phones and use apps, such as WhatsApp, to communicate with colleagues from other countries between rounds.

Canada’s current run for a seat has been a cornerstone of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy since he declared “Canada is back” in 2015.

Bessma Momani, a professor and assistant vice-president of international relations at the University of Waterloo, said Canada’s chances are “up in the air” because the Liberal government has not backed its foreign policy values with dollars. For instance, Norway outshines Canada on international aid, contributing 1 per cent of its gross national income to development assistance in 2019, compared to only 0.27 per cent in Canada.

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“We’re trying to do this all on the cheap," Prof. Momani said. “It’s an uphill battle. I don’t think we’ve got this in the bag."

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