India expects big win in International Court of Justice election today

The United Nations (UN) is expected to vote on Monday for a new member to the panel of judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, with India hoping its candidate Dalveer Bhandari will win by a two-thirds margin, three people familiar with the developments said.

Analysts say the election is crucial for India as it is seen as a litmus test for the support it enjoys in the world body where New Delhi has been campaigning for reforms, including a permanent seat for itself in the powerful Security Council.

Bhandari is pitted against Christopher Greenwood of Britain in a two-way contest. The vote is as tricky because Bhandari has the support of a majority of the UN General Assembly members while Greenwood has the support of the members of Security Council.

Election rules require a majority in both chambers, which is why neither candidate has been declared elected so far after 11 rounds of balloting. “For the first time, a candidate from a P5 (permanent member of the UN Security Council) member country has not been able to get an easy pass, and that in itself speaks volumes,” said one of the three people cited above.

“I think Britain should align its interests with those of developing countries and give them a fair share of representation in international governance,” said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

Envoys of countries stationed in New Delhi have been called in by the foreign office to line up support for Bhandari. Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj has also been putting calls through to her counterparts to push India’s case.

A number of developing countries had pledged support to India when Swaraj telephoned her counterparts, said one of the officials cited above.

According to Sibal, “Britain and other Western countries are over represented in international institutions. There is a consciousness that undeveloped and developing countries must have a voice.”

A win for Bhandari will also be a measure of the backing that India enjoys in the UN General Assembly, Sibal said. New Delhi has been campaigning for many decades now for reforms to the powerful UN Security Council which has five permanent members – Britain, China, France, US and Russia. The permanent five have the power to set rules and veto decisions.

“There is an element of prestige to have an Indian elected to such a position,” said Shashi Tharoor, Congress party MP and former UN undersecretary general. Taking to Twitter to support for Bhandari, Tharoor said, “India is a country of consequence and weight in the world.”

Also key was the importance of having an Indian voice at such fora where matters related to Indian interests could potentially come up, he said.

One case that is pending before the ICJ concerns Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav, who has been sentenced to death by a military court in Pakistan on charges of spying. India has approached the ICJ for a stay on the sentence.

If elected, Bhandari will join the ranks of Indians B.N. Rau, Nagendra Singh and R.S.Pathak, who have been ICJ judges.

ICJ has 15 judges on its bench. Elections for one-third of its judges are held every three years. Four judges to the ICJ were elected early this month when they received the required majority of votes in both the General Assembly, which consists of 193 members, and the 15-member UN Security Council.