NEW YORK // Listening to the gripes from diplomats, rights campaigners and even his own staff, one could easily conclude that the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, will not be reappointed when his first term in office comes to an end next year.
But Mr Ban cooperates closely with the clique of five powerful countries that exercise disproportionate control over his re-appointment, meaning the South Korean career diplomat should have little difficulty securing a second five-year stint.
The 66-year-old started out as UN chief in January 2007, promising to streamline the clunky bureaucracy, tackle climate change and reboot anti-poverty efforts. His term expires on December 31, 2011, and there is every indication that he wants another.
Mr Ban says he has performed well in a tough job and repeatedly expressed willingness to serve again. On Friday, during his year-end press conference, he promised to "squarely address this issue" of renewal "early next year".
While described as merely the UN's "chief administrative officer", the secretary general commands about 44,000 secretariat staff, can refer matters to the Security Council and ultimately heads the 99,000 blue-helmet peacekeepers deployed around the world.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, exert most control over the selection process, using their veto power to block hostile candidates and keep incumbents in check.
The 192-member General Assembly only endorses or rejects nominees. This typically occurs at the end of a term, though Kofi Annan's renewal came six months before his mandate expired, enabling the Ghanaian to do his job without the need to campaign.
Diplomats and UN staffers are already asking whether Mr Ban deserves a second term. Some highlight success at the recent Cancun climate change talks, others point to weak progress in Myanmar, Somalia and the Sudanese province of Darfur.
Criticism of Mr Ban has been vocal and harsh. Last year, a leaked letter from Norway's deputy UN ambassador, Mona Juul, said the UN chief "struggled to show leadership" and lacked charisma. She described a vain and tempestuous boss who "regularly throws a fit" in front of staff.
Inga Britt-Ahlenius released a stinging 50-page rebuke of Mr Ban upon leaving her job leading the UN's internal watchdog in July, warning that the world body was "drifting into irrelevance" under Mr Ban, accusing him of micro-managing staff and hindering anti-corruption efforts.
During four years on the job, chatter in the corridors of UN headquarters has evolved from hushed probing of Mr Ban's leadership style to outspoken criticism of his perceived failings.
This week, the staff union warned that new security rules could see more field officers "being killed" in the line of duty. One worker privately described "low morale" because of the UN's tarnished image under Mr Ban. "Most staff here would not be sad to see him go," he said.
Rights groups are similarly wary of South Korea's former foreign minister, notably after last month's visit to China, when he avoided calling for the release of Liu Xiaobo, this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is serving an 11-year sentence for incitement to subversion.
"By failing to raise the case of Liu Xiaobo when meeting with President Hu Jintao of China, and sugar-coating Burma's sham elections, Ban has weakened his hand with abusive governments," said Philippe Bolopion, from Human Rights Watch. "In our view, to deserve a second term, he would have to find a more consistent and effective public voice on the critical human-rights issues of our time."
Mr Ban has apparently avoided ruffling Chinese feathers and has really upset only one key council member, Russia, for his perceived support for Kosovan independence in 2008.
"It's the inner five, with their power to block anyone unacceptable to them, that direct this process. Whether or not they are wowed by Ban Ki-moon, it is hard to see that he offended any of them sufficiently," said Jeffrey Laurenti, a UN analyst for the Century Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit public-policy research institution. "They may well decide it is better to soldier on with somebody who works with them, is responsive and doesn't get in their way than to go through the hassle of a contentious selection process."
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one diplomat from a permanent council member said the recent furore over Mr Ban's Far East trip was unlikely to cost the diplomat his position.
"I don't see how or why the second term of Mr Ban Ki-moon will really be put into question. I can't see which country would stand up and create a major crisis over this secretary general, an argument with South Korea, and on what basis," he said.
"The most likely outcome is that Mr Ban Ki-moon will be renewed for a second mandate. Secretary general of the UN is one of the most difficult jobs ... like every politician, he can make mistakes, but you cannot say that from a single mistake his term will not be renewed."