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India's Dalveer Bhandari wins ICJ election: What it means, why it matters

One British paper described the UK's decision to withdraw as 'a humiliating blow to British international prestige', adding that the move reflected the country's acceptance of a 'diminished status'

BS Web Team | Agencies  |  New Delhi 

Dalveer Bhandari
India's Dalveer Bhandari wins second term at ICJ after UK pulls out of race. Photo: @AkbaruddinIndia (Twitter)

"An acrimonious competition", said British paper The Guardian while describing the race between India and the United Kingdom (UK) for the 15th and final place on the Bench of the (ICJ), which was won by the former's candidate, Dalveer Bhandari, after the UK withdrew its candidate from the election. 

As reported earlier, Bhandari received 183-193 votes in the United Nations General Assembly and secured all the 15 votes in the Security Council after separate and simultaneous elections were held at the headquarters in New York. India's victory came after Britain's Permanent Representative to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, in a statement said that the UK had decided to withdraw Sir as a candidate for re-election as a Judge of the

Here's what Bhandari's re-election means and what happened in the run-up to India's victory:

1) Permanent members unnerved: Ahead of India's victory, agency reports citing observers said that the of the Security Council were 'unnerved' by the prospect of India's nominee winning against Britain's candidate in the election to the last seat of the World Court as it would set a precedent that might challenge their power in the future. 

(Click here to read why P5 nations were worried over an Indian victory

Before the UK withdrew from the race, the of the Security Council -- the US, Russia, France, and China -- appeared to have rallied behind Greenwood. Britain is the fifth permanent member of the Security Council. 

2) A worrisome precedent for countries: The prospect of India winning against a member through democratic means was something that this elite club of veto-wielding countries – Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States – was unnerved with, because this would set a precedent that they did not want to see repeated. (Read more here

"Today it is Britain, tomorrow it could be any one of us" is the argument which had brought all these five countries together, sources told PTI, adding, "If the one (of the P5) is going to be knocked off today, the others fear that they might be knocked off tomorrow."  

3) UNGA's vote in India's favour reflects new global order: In the 11 rounds of the election as of Sunday, Bhandari had been receiving the support of nearly two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly but was trailing by three votes against Greenwood in the Security Council. According to reports, the voting in the General Assembly, which overwhelmingly favoured India, is reflective of the new global order, which is not pleasant to the world powers. 

Further, according to reports, it was understood that both New Delhi and the Permanent Mission of India to the had been working overtime to convince the members of the Security Council on the need to go by the voice of the majority of the General Assembly. 

4) UK might have tried to misuse its membership: According to reports citing diplomatic sources from over the weekend, the UK tried to "misuse" its Security Council membership by pushing for a joint conference mechanism, which was last used 96 years ago, in the election. 

(Click here to read how the UK might have tried to employ 'dirty politics' to win

Reportedly, Britain was aggressively pushing in the Security Council for resorting to the joint conference mechanism, which was last used some 96 years ago and against which there exists an unequivocal legal opinion, the diplomatic sources said. The "dirty politics" being played by India's former colonial ruler, as one insider put it, had sent a sense of "uneasiness" among other members of the powerful Security Council, many of whom were aware of the long-term implications of a move to ignore the voice of the majority of the United Nations General Assembly. In all previous incidents, the candidate getting a majority in the General Assembly had eventually been elected as a judge of The Hague-based  

5) Other members might have faced a tricky situation: By Sunday evening, it appeared that Britain was ready to execute its plan, as per which after the first round of voting they would call for a meeting of the Security Council and would seek a mandate to stop any further round of voting, and would call for the adoption of a joint conference mechanism. (Read more here)

However, this would have put other members in a tricky position. This is because the Security Council vote to stop further rounds of the election would be open and not through a secret ballot. 

As a result, countries, many of whom have been pledging friendship with India but secretly voting against its candidate, would be exposed in the open. This was something that members of the Security Council would have wished to avoid.

6) UK pulled out of race at last moment: Despite the above reports, in a dramatic turn of events, the UK withdrew from the race, thus paving the way for Bhandari's re-election to the prestigious world court. (Read more here

In a statement, Rycroft said the UK decided to withdraw Greenwood as a candidate for re-election as a judge of the "The UK has concluded that it is wrong to continue to take up the valuable time of the Security Council and the General Assembly with further rounds of elections," he said. 

7) UK says happy 'close friend' India won: After pulling out of the race, Britain congratulated Justice on being re-elected to the and said it would continue to cooperate closely with India at the and globally. 

"We are naturally disappointed, but it was a competitive field with six strong candidates," Rycroft said, adding, "If the UK could not win in this run-off, then we are pleased that it is a close friend like India that has done so instead. We will continue to cooperate closely with India, here in the United Nations and globally." Rycroft also said that the UK would continue to support the work of the "in line with our commitment to the importance of the rule of law in the system and in the international community more generally". 

8) 'Blow to British prestige': The Guardian described the UK's decision to withdraw as "a humiliating blow to British international prestige", adding that the move reflected the country's acceptance of a "diminished status" in global affairs.  

According to a BBC diplomatic correspondent, the UK's withdrawal would be seen in certain quarters "as a shift in the balance of power at the away from the Security Council". Further, the correspondent said that the move would be seen as "a humiliating defeat for the UK".  

9) Trade with India could have played a role: According to The Guardian, the fact that India could emerge as a "more significant trading partner" after the UK's exit from the European Union, or Brexit, could have contributed to the decision to withdraw. 

10) No British judge for the first time in ICJ's history: Last but not the least, one of the consequences of India's victory, as The Guardian's headline put it, is: "No British judge on world court for first time in its 71-year history".

First Published: Tue, November 21 2017. 10:41 IST