BUCHAREST — A senior US official has won an overwhelming majority to lead the United Nations agency that sets global standards for telecommunications and technology infrastructure.
139 countries voted for the American Doreen Bogdan-Martin against 25 for the Russian Rashid Ismailov, choosing the American to lead the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for the next four years. Organizers will not disclose which country voted for which candidate in Thursday’s elections in Bucharest.
The election pitted Western democracies’ vision of a more open version of the internet against the government-controlled approach of authoritarian countries. Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and Iran have already shown how the internet can be turned into a powerful tool for censorship and the suppression of dissent.
Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine has also overshadowed diplomatic elections. In its occupation of Ukrainian territories, Moscow has implemented cyber-surveillance strategies, redirecting people’s data through its own network and restricting internet access, according to Ukrainian media and officials.
Bogdan-Martin will replace China’s Houlin Zhao, who had headed the agency since 2014 amid growing fears in the West over Beijing’s growing efforts to rewrite global standards.
An experienced telecommunications diplomat, Bogdan-Martin will also become the first woman to lead the 157-year-old UN agency. It will set the direction for several major telecommunications and technology issues, including the severe lack of internet connectivity across the globe. According to the agency, more than 2.7 billion people are still offline in 2022. Only 40% of Africans had internet access compared to Europe, the most connected region, where 89% of the population has a connection.
US President Joe Biden has described the US candidate as possessing “the integrity, experience and vision to transform the digital landscape”.