By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres still leads the race to become the next United Nations Secretary-General after a third U.N. Security Council secret ballot on Monday, diplomats said.
The 15-member council cast a ballot for each of the remaining 10 candidates, and the choices were: encourage, discourage or no opinion. Guterres received 11 encourage, three discourage and one no opinion, diplomats said.
The Security Council will hold secret ballots until a consensus is reached on a candidate to replace U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon of South Korea who steps down at the end of 2016 after serving two five-year terms.
Guterres, who was prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002 and served as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from June 2005 to December 2015, also won the first two rounds of secret ballots by the Security Council.
In the second ballot on Aug. 5 he picked up 11 encourage, two discourage and two no opinions, while in the first poll on July 21, Guterres received 12 encourages and three no opinions.
"Some favorites are emerging," British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters on his way in to the poll on Monday, adding he would encourage some candidates to consider dropping out.
"The whole point of the straw polls is to gradually winnow down the field," he said.
In Monday's poll Slovakia's Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak jumped to second spot with nine encourage, five discourage and one no opinion, followed by Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, who is director-general of U.N. cultural organization UNESCO, and former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, who both had seven encourage, five discourage and three no opinion, diplomats said.
Argentinian Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra dropped to fifth spot from third, followed by former Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim, and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who heads the U.N. Development Programme.
Former Slovenian President Danilo Turk, Moldova's former Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman and former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica filled the last three spots.
Former Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic dropped out of the race prior to the second ballot, while Montenegro Foreign Minister Igor Luksic withdrew last week.
Civil society groups and nearly a third of the 193 U.N. member states, led by Colombia, have pushed for the first woman secretary-general. But hopes for a woman to lead the United Nations appear to be fading.
Diplomats said the council aimed to recommend a candidate to the 193-member General Assembly for election by October. Ultimately, the five permanent veto-wielding council members - the United States, Russia, Britain, China and France - must agree on a candidate.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by James Dalgleish)