ILO election watch

We will know tomorrow who will replace Guy Ryder at the helm of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Quick reminder: five candidates (among them two women, whose election would mark a first for the organization) from four continents are in the running. In alphabetical order: Togolese Gilbert Houngbo, South Korean Kang Kyung-wha, South African Mthunzi Mdwaba, French Muriel Pénicaud, and Australian Greg Vines.

The peculiar election process resembles a game of musical chairs: At each round, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated. The candidates compete for a majority of the ILO Governing Body’s fifty-six votes—twenty-eight votes from governments, fourteen each from the Workers’ and Employers’ Groups, as the ILO is a tripartite organization, an exception at the UN. Click here for a very informative map on the GB’s composition, put together by KAS-Multilateral Dialogue Geneva.*

There is widespread agreement among ILO watchers that the last round will see a face-off between Gilbert Houngbo and Muriel Pénicaud, with a slight advantage to the former Prime Minister, who left the ILO to preside over the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development.

In a hotly contested campaign, with governments actively supporting their candidates (except for South Africa who didn’t back Mthunzi Mdwaba), Houngbo ultimately managed to rally the Workers’ Group vote behind his candidacy and secured the support of the Latin American bloc. Pénicaud, a former French labor minister, is officially supported by all EU members. Still, it will be difficult for her to significantly extend that base of support during the later rounds of voting, even if she is expected to get some of the Employers’ Group votes. French business daily Les Echos also reports that with a qualified African candidate in the running, Emmanuel Macron’s letter of support to French-speaking African countries may have been perceived as overreaching.

Finally, the war in Ukraine will loom over the election, although ultimately it is not likely to be enough to change the dynamics. Logic dictates that China and Russia, both members of the ILO’s Governing Body, will vote for the Togolese candidate—an endorsement that Pénicaud supporters might argue places Houngbo on the side of the aggressor.


*The Geneva Observer Briefing is supported by KAS’s Multilateral Dialogue Geneva. KAS has no say on The G|O’s content.