Helen Clark

For other people named Helen Clark, see Helen Clark (disambiguation).
The Right Honourable
Helen Clark
8th Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
Assumed office
17 April 2009
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Preceded by Kemal Derviş
37th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
10 December 1999  19 November 2008
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General Michael Hardie Boys
Silvia Cartwright
Anand Satyanand
Deputy Jim Anderton
Michael Cullen
Preceded by Jenny Shipley
Succeeded by John Key
27th Leader of the Opposition
In office
1 December 1993  10 December 1999
Deputy David Caygill
Michael Cullen
Preceded by Mike Moore
Succeeded by Jenny Shipley
11th Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
8 August 1989  2 November 1990
Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer
Mike Moore
Preceded by Geoffrey Palmer
Succeeded by Don McKinnon
29th Minister of Health
In office
30 January 1989  2 November 1990
Prime Minister David Lange
Geoffrey Palmer
Mike Moore
Preceded by David Caygill
Succeeded by Simon Upton
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Mount Albert
In office
28 November 1981  17 April 2009[1]
Preceded by Warren Freer
Succeeded by David Shearer
Majority 14,749[2]
Personal details
Born Helen Elizabeth Clark
(1950-02-26) 26 February 1950
Hamilton, New Zealand
Political party Labour Party
Spouse(s) Peter Davis
Alma mater University of Auckland

Helen Elizabeth Clark PC ONZ (born 26 February 1950) is the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and was the 37th Prime Minister of New Zealand. As Prime Minister she served three consecutive terms from 1999 to 2008 and was the first woman elected at a general election as the Prime Minister, and was the fifth longest serving person to hold that office.[3] She has been Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, the third-highest UN position, since 2009.[4] In April 2016, she declared her candidacy for the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations.[5]

Clark graduated from the University of Auckland in 1974 and became politically active in the New Zealand Labour Party as a teenager. While a junior lecturer at the University in the early 1970s, Clark entered local politics in 1974 in Auckland but was not elected to any position. In 1975 she came second for Labour in the rural (and safe National) seat of Piako.

In 1981 she was elected to Parliament for the safe Labour seat of Mount Albert, a position she held until her resignation in 2009. Clark held numerous Cabinet positions in the Fourth Labour government of 1984–1990, including Minister of Housing, Minister of Health and Minister of Conservation. She was Deputy Prime Minister from 1989–1990 under Prime Ministers Geoffrey Palmer and Mike Moore.

After Labour's strong showing in the 1993 election, Clark challenged the Labour leadership of Mike Moore and won, becoming the Leader of the Opposition. After failing to win the 1996 election, she led the Labour Party to a sweeping victory in the 1999 election. As Prime Minister of the Fifth Labour Government of New Zealand, Clark's government presided over nearly a decade of economic growth, while still maintaining a large government surplus.

Clark's government implemented several major economic initiatives including Kiwibank, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme and KiwiSaver. Her government's other major policies included the Working for Families package, increasing the minimum wage 5% a year, interest-free student loans, creation of District Health Boards, the introduction of a number of tax credits, overhauling the secondary school qualifications by introducing NCEA, and the introduction of fourteen weeks’ parental leave.[6] Her government also introduced the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 which caused major controversy and was eventually repealed in 2011.

Clark sent troops to the Afghanistan War, but did not contribute combat troops to the Iraq War although some medical and engineering units were sent. Her agenda reflected the priorities of liberal internationalism, especially the promotion of democracy and human rights; the strengthening of the role of the United Nations; the advancement of antimilitarism and disarmament; and the encouragement of free trade.[7] Clark advocated a number of free trade agreements with major trading partners, including becoming the first developed nation to sign such an agreement with China, and ordered a military deployment to the 2006 East Timorese crisis alongside international partners.

Her government was defeated in the 2008 election and she resigned as Prime Minister and Labour Party leader. She resigned from Parliament in April 2009 from her Mount Albert electorate and was replaced by David Shearer to take up the post of Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. Forbes magazine ranked her 20th most powerful woman in the world in 2006[8] and 50th in 2012.[9] She rose to the 23rd position in 2014[10] and then 22nd in 2016.[11]

Early life

Clark was the eldest of four daughters of a farming family at Te Pahu in the Waikato Region. Her mother, Margaret McMurray, of Irish birth, was a primary school teacher. Her father, George, was a farmer. Clark studied at Te Pahu Primary School, at Epsom Girls' Grammar School in Auckland and at the University of Auckland, where she majored in politics and graduated with an MA (Honours) in 1974. Her thesis focused on rural political behaviour and representation.[12]

As a teenager Clark became politically active, protesting against the Vietnam War and campaigning against foreign military bases in New Zealand. Clark was brought up as a Presbyterian, attending Sunday school weekly. She has described herself as an agnostic.[13]

In 1971 Clark assisted Labour candidates to the Auckland City Council.[14] Clark was a junior lecturer in political studies at the University of Auckland from 1973 to 1975. In 1974 she sought the nomination for the Auckland Central electorate, but lost to Richard Prebble.[14] She instead stood for Piako, a National safe seat.[15] Clark studied abroad on a University Grants Committee post-graduate scholarship in 1976, and then lectured in political studies at Auckland again while undertaking her PhD (which she never completed) from 1977 until her election to Parliament in 1981 (her father supported the National Party that election).

She married sociologist Peter Davis, her partner of five years at that time, shortly before that election (under pressure from some members of the New Zealand Labour Party to marry despite her own feelings about marriage  her biography reports that she cried throughout the ceremony, although she attributes that to a headache).[16] Dr Davis currently is a professor in medical sociology and heads the Sociology Department at the University of Auckland.

Clark has worked actively in the New Zealand Labour Party for most of her life. She served as a member of the Party's New Zealand executive from 1978 until September 1988 and again from April 1989. She chaired the University of Auckland Princes Street branch of the Labour Party during her studies, becoming active alongside future Labour Party politicians including Richard Prebble, David Caygill, Margaret Wilson, and Richard Northey. Clark held the positions of president of the Labour Youth Council, executive member of the Party's Auckland Regional Council, secretary of the Labour Women's Council and member of the Policy Council.

She represented the New Zealand Labour Party at the congresses of the Socialist International and of the Socialist International Women in 1976, 1978, 1983 and 1986, at an Asia-Pacific Socialist Organisation Conference held in Sydney in 1981, and at the Socialist International Party Leaders' Meeting in Sydney in 1991.

Member of Parliament

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate List Party
19811984 40th Mt Albert Labour
19841987 41st Mt Albert Labour
19871990 42nd Mt Albert Labour
19901993 43rd Mt Albert Labour
19931996 44th Mt Albert Labour
19961999 45th Owairaka 1 Labour
19992002 46th Mt Albert 1 Labour
20022005 47th Mt Albert 1 Labour
20052008 48th Mt Albert 1 Labour
20082009 49th Mt Albert 1 Labour

Helen Clark first gained election to the New Zealand House of Representatives in the 1981 general election as one of four women who entered Parliament on that occasion. In winning the Mount Albert electorate in Auckland, she became the second woman elected to represent an Auckland electorate, and the seventeenth woman elected to the New Zealand Parliament. Her first parliamentary intervention, on taking her seat was on 12 April 1982 to give notice, she would move a motion condeming the US Navy's deployment of nuclear cruise missiles in the Pacific [17] Two weeks later in a very powerful maiden speech with unusual emphasis on defence policy and the arms race, she again condemned the deployment of cruise, pershing and SS20 and the global ambitions of both superpowers navies, but claimed the Soviet admirals did not plough New Zealand's waters and expressed particular concern about the expansion of the 1965 memo of ANZUS understanding for the resupply of weapons to NZ to include nuclear weapon resupply [18] At the 2005 general election Clark won 66% of the electorate votes, or 20,918 votes with a 14,749 majority.[2]

During her first term in the House (1981–1984), she became a member of the Statutes Revision Committee. In her second term (1984–1987), she chaired the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Select Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control, both of which combined with the Defence Select Committee in 1985 to form a single committee.

Cabinet Minister

In 1987, Clark became a Cabinet Minister in the Fourth Labour Government, led by David Lange (1984–1989), Geoffrey Palmer (1989–1990) and Mike Moore (1990), first as Minister of Housing and as Minister of Conservation, then as Minister of Health and later as Deputy Prime Minister.

Clark served as Minister of Conservation from August 1987 until January 1989 and as Minister of Housing from August 1987 until August 1989. She became Minister of Health in January 1989 and Minister of Labour and Deputy Prime Minister in August 1989. She chaired the Cabinet Social Equity Committee and became a member of the Cabinet Policy Committee, of the Cabinet Committee on Chief Executives, of the Cabinet Economic Development and Employment Committee, of the Cabinet Expenditure Review Committee, of the Cabinet State Agencies Committee, of the Cabinet Honours Appointments and Travel Committee and of the Cabinet Domestic and External Security Committee.

Leader of the Opposition

From October 1990 until December 1993 Clark held the posts of Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Opposition spokesperson for Health and Labour and member of the Social Services Select Committee and of the Labour Select Committee. After the National Party won the 1993 general election with a majority of one seat, Clark challenged Mike Moore for the leadership of the parliamentary Labour Party and became Leader of the Opposition on 1 December 1993. She led the Opposition during the National-led Governments of Jim Bolger (1990–1997) and Jenny Shipley (1997–1999).

During the 1998 Waitangi Day celebrations, Clark was prevented from speaking on the marae by activist Titewhai Harawira in protest over Clark being allowed to speak in direct contradiction of traditional Maori protocol.[19] The ensuing argument saw Clark being reduced to tears on national television.[20][21][22]

In 1999, Clark was involved in a defamation case in the High Court of New Zealand with Auckland orthopaedic surgeon Joe Brownlee, resulting in Clark making an unreserved apology. The case centered on a press statement issued by Clark criticising Brownlee, triggered by a constituent's complaint over the outcome of a hip replacement. Clark admitted the criticism was unjustified in that the complication suffered by her constituent was rare, unforeseen and unavoidable.[23]

Prime Minister

Official portrait of Helen Clark (2005)

When the New Zealand Labour Party came into office as part of a coalition following the 1999 election, Clark became the second female Prime Minister of New Zealand and the first to have won office at an election. (The previous Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley took office as the result of a mid-term party-leadership challenge.) During her term in office women held a number of prominent elected and appointed offices in New Zealand, such as the Governor-General, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Chief Justice.

Clark was Prime Minister and Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage from 1999 until 2008. She also had ministerial responsibility for the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service and for Ministerial Services. Her particular interests included social policy and international affairs.

As Prime Minister, Helen Clark was a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an International network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to mobilise the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.

As Leader of the Labour Party, Clark negotiated the formation of successive minority coalition governments. Coming into office after the adoption of MMP and a chaotic National-led government under Bolger and Shipley, political scientist Bryce Edwards identified Clark's ability to lead stable governments as her most significant achievement, arguing that her ability to work with a variety of coalition partners (including the Alliance, Jim Anderton's Progressive Party, Green, United Future and New Zealand First) consolidated public support for MMP.[24][25]

First term: 1999–2002

The first such coalition (1999  2002) linked the Labour Party with the Alliance Party.

In 2000, Labour MP Chris Carter investigated the background of one of Clark's Cabinet colleagues, Māori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels. During the investigation, Clark referred to John Yelash as a murderer. However, the court system had convicted Yelash of manslaughter. Yelash sued Clark for defamation, resulting in an out-of-court settlement.

With Paul Wolfowitz at the Pentagon, 26 March 2002

In 2000, the then Police Commissioner, Peter Doone, resigned after the Sunday Star-Times alleged he had prevented the breath testing of his partner Robyn, who had driven the car they occupied, by telling the officer "that won't be necessary". Both Doone and the officer involved denied this happened. Doone sued the Sunday Star-Times for defamation in 2005 but the paper revealed they had checked the story with Clark. She confirmed this, but denied that she had made attempts to get Doone to resign and defended being the source as "by definition I cannot leak". Helen Clark also responded by saying that National's friends had funded Mr Doone's defamation-suit.[26] Opinion on the significance of this incident varied.[27]

In a report in the People's Daily, Chinese President Jiang Zemin referred to Clark as an "old friend". He hoped to "establish bilateral long-term and stable overall cooperative relations with a healthy development geared to the 21st century", and "broad prospects for bilateral economic cooperation". Clark had strongly supported China's entry into the WTO.[28]

Second term: 2002–2005

The Alliance Party split in 2002 over the Government's commitment of New Zealand troops to the War in Afghanistan, leading to the imminent dissolution of Labour's coalition of that party.[29] As a consequence, Clark called an early election and then went into coalition with Jim Anderton's Progressive Party, a spin-off of the Alliance Party (2002, with parliamentary confidence and supply coming from United Future and a "good-faith" agreement with the Green Party).

I think it's inevitable that New Zealand will become a republic and that would reflect the reality that New Zealand is a totally sovereign-independent 21st century nation 12,000 miles from the United Kingdom
  Prime Minister Helen Clark, [30]

Clark believes a New Zealand republic is "inevitable",[30] and her term in office saw a number of alleged moves in this direction, under her government's policy of building national identity. Examples include the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council in London and the foundation of the Supreme Court of New Zealand, the abolition of titular Knighthood and Damehood honours (restored in 2009), and the abolition of the title "Queen's Counsel" (replaced by "Senior Counsel") (restored in 2012).

In 2002, Clark apologised for aspects of New Zealand's treatment of Samoa during the colonial era.[31] Clark's apology was made in Apia during the 40th anniversary of Samoa's independence and televised live to New Zealand where Samoans applauded the prime minister's gesture.[32]

In March 2003, referring to the U.S. led coalition's actions in the Iraq War, Clark told the newspaper Sunday Star Times that, "I don't think that 11 September under a Gore presidency would have had this consequence for Iraq." She later sent a letter to Washington apologising for any offence that her comment may have caused.[33]

On 17 July 2004, a motorcade involving police, Diplomatic Protection Squad, and Ministerial Services staff reached speeds of up to 172 km/h when taking Clark and Cabinet Minister Jim Sutton from Waimate to Christchurch Airport so she could attend a rugby union match in Wellington.[34] The courts subsequently convicted the drivers involved for driving offences, but appeals resulted in the quashing of these convictions in December 2005 and August 2006.[35] Clark said that she was busy working in the back seat and had no influence or role in the decision to speed and did not realise the speed of her vehicle.[36]

In November 2004, Clark announced that negotiations with the People's Republic of China had commenced for a free trade agreement, eventually signing a comprehensive agreement in July 2008.[37]

Third term: 2005–2008

Helen Clark at the opening of Waikato River Trails at Whakamaru, 2007

In 2005, following the election of that year, the Labour Party and the Progressive Party renewed their coalition, gaining supply-and-confidence support from both New Zealand First and United Future in exchange for giving the leaders of those parties ministerial positions outside Cabinet.

On 24 July 2008, Clark passed Sir Robert Muldoon to become New Zealand's sixth-longest-serving Prime Minister, and on 27 October 2008 she passed Edward Stafford's combined terms to become the 5th longest-serving Prime Minister.

On 8 February 2008, Clark became the longest serving leader of the Labour Party in its history (although some dispute exists over when the party's first and therefore the first male leader Harry Holland became leader), having served for 14 years, 69 days,[38][i] by 26 October 2008 she had passed Holland's longest possible term and her position as longest serving Labour Party leader was put beyond doubt. Clark conceded defeat following the 2008 general election to John Key and announced that she was standing down as Labour Party leader.[39] On 11 November 2008 Clark was replaced by Phil Goff as leader of the Labour Party.[40]

In 2006, Forbes ranked Clark 20th of "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women"[8] and then at 56th in 2008.[41]

Mid term, Clark signed a painting for a charity-auction that someone else had painted. Opposition politicians referred the matter to the Police[42] who found evidence for a prima facie case of forgery, but determined that it was not in the public interest to prosecute.[43]

By the end of her term in office, Clark had come to be seen as a divisive figure, going from a Herald-DigiPoll popularity rating of nearly 60% in 2005 to 41.6% at the time of the 2008 election.[44] In her last term, she faced increasing media negativity, being accused of having a "nanny state" approach to social issues,[45] a perception captured by the pejorative term "Helengrad". While Clark denounced Rogernomics as "a ghastly period" and won the 1999 election by abandoning its legacy,[46] biographer Denis Welch argued that she did not do enough to repudiate the paradigm created by Rogernomics, instead allowing Labour and National to become "increasingly hard to tell apart" on many issues.[47]

Clark's government was concerned with stability,[48] pragmatic[49] and managerial,[50] and focused on incremental changes over grand projects.[51][52] The portrayals of her as controlling and manipulative after the 2005 election increased when she abandoned her managerial approach, such as during the New Zealand foreshore and seabed controversy, and her support of the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007.[53][54][55] Edwards argued that Clark was never a "conviction politician" and set out to be a "successful" rather than "great" politician, leaving behind a legacy of incremental reforms of New Zealand and good management of the status quo, but no bold ambitions.[56]

Clark was the first defeated Labour Prime Minister to immediately resign the party leadership rather than lead it in Opposition.

United Nations Development Programme

Clark meeting with Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, 2012

Helen Clark became the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on 17 April 2009, and is the first woman to lead the organization. She is also the Chair of the United Nations Development Group, a committee consisting of the heads of all UN funds, programmes and departments working on development issues.[57] The current government of New Zealand strongly supported her nomination, along with Australia, the Pacific Island nations and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown. She also received the support of the five countries on the bureau of the UNDP board (Iran, Haiti, Serbia, The Netherlands and Tanzania) and was unanimously confirmed by the General Assembly on 31 March. She was sworn in by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 27 April 2009.[58][59][60][61]

In this position, Forbes deemed her the 23rd most powerful woman in the world.[62]

In an interview with New Zealand news agency 3 News on 5 March 2012, she confirmed she would be seeking another four-year term as Administrator of the UNDP.[63]

Clark with Hijab in Tehran, during a meeting with Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, 4 August 2013

In 2013, Forbes upgraded her position to 21st most powerful woman in the world after she was appointed head UNDP for a second term and her potential future as UN Secretary General.[64][65] She was the only New Zealander to make the list.[66] As of 2014, she is listed at #23.[10]

In January 2014, a Guardian interview with Clark raised the possibility that she could take over as UN Secretary-General after Ban Ki-moon's retirement in 2016. She did not confirm her interest, but commented: "There will be interest in whether the UN will have a first woman because they're looking like the last bastions, as it were." She also said in the same interview that: "If there's enough support for the style of leadership that I have, it will be interesting."[67] In response, Prime Minister John Key said the New Zealand Government would support a bid, but cautioned that it would be a tough task to get the job.[68]

In February 2015, Clark visited Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to express solidarity with those working to prevent the spread of Ebola.[69]

United Nations Secretary-General selection

New Zealand politician Helen Clark at the UN, July 2016

On 4 April 2016, Helen Clark officially submitted her nomination as New Zealand's candidate for the 2016 UN Secretary-General selection.

The UN's role in the Haiti cholera outbreak has been widely discussed and criticized. There has been indisputable evidence that the UN is the proximate cause for bringing cholera to Haiti. Peacekeepers sent to Haiti from Nepal were carrying asymptomatic cholera and they did not treat their waste properly before dumping it into Haiti's water stream.[70] When asked about compensation for victims, Clark has declined to take a position, calling it "legal issues."[71]

Another issue that has been brought up is the sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. This gross problem was brought to light after Anders Kompass exposed the sexual assault of children by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. [72] During the United Nations Secretary General Candidate informal dialogues, Clark said that the UN needed to deal quickly with sexual exploitation and abuse, and gender-based violence by peacekeepers. [73] The United States asked Clark how she would ensure that the peacekeepers fulfill their mandates. [73] This question went unanswered.


The government of the Solomon Islands awarded Clark (with John Howard) the Star of the Solomon Islands in 2005 in recognition of New Zealand's role in restoring law and order in the Solomon Islands.[74] This award allows her to use the post-nominal letters "SSI".[75]

Our prime minister has been rather unique in being a great lover of the out of doors and she's always off climbing something, doing something exciting and I think that New Zealanders admire that. That is sort of the way of life that they have come to accept in our little old island in the south seas. But Helen has been particularly strong in this respect. So long may she reign.
 Sir Edmund Hillary[76]

In January 2008 Clark won the United Nations Environment Programme Champions of the Earth award in recognition of the government’s promotion of sustainability initiatives.[77]

Clark is an Honorary Member of The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.[78]

Clark was the patron of the New Zealand Rugby League between 2002 and 2011 and has served as the patron of the Mt Albert Lions rugby league club for over 20 years.[79][80]

In January 2009, two months after losing office, Clark was voted Greatest Living New Zealander in an opt-in website poll run by the New Zealand Herald. In a close race she received 25 percent of the vote, ahead of Victoria Cross recipient Willie Apiata at 21 percent. Current Prime Minister John Key said he was not surprised by the poll, saying "... she is well thought of as a New Zealand Prime Minister."[81]

In April 2009 she was awarded honorary Doctor of Laws degree by University of Auckland.[82]

In the New Year Honours 2010 Clark was appointed to the Order of New Zealand for services to New Zealand.[83][84][85]

In popular culture

In 1996, Clark guest starred as herself in popular New Zealand soap opera Shortland Street. A satirical book, later adapted as a play, titled On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as Her Young Lover, by Richard Meros, was published by Lawrence and Gibson in 2005. Clark has also guest-starred on bro'Town, the New Zealand animated television series.

See also


^i :No recent Prime Minister of New Zealand has lasted more than three terms in office, or their party as government. Keith Holyoake (1957: 1960–1972) was the last to do so, and William Massey (1912–1925) and Richard Seddon (1893–1906) served four terms each, and both died one year after their final election victories.


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Further reading

Helen Clark is profiled in a chapter entitled: " Helen Clark: first elected woman prime minister."

External links

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Helen Clark
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Helen Clark.
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Warren Freer
Member of Parliament for Mount Albert
Succeeded by
David Shearer
Political offices
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David Caygill
Minister of Health
Succeeded by
Simon Upton
Preceded by
Geoffrey Palmer
Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
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Don McKinnon
Preceded by
Mike Moore
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Jenny Shipley
Preceded by
Jenny Shipley
Prime Minister of New Zealand
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John Key
New office Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage
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Chris Finlayson
Party political offices
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Geoffrey Palmer
Deputy Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party
Succeeded by
David Caygill
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Mike Moore
Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party
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Phil Goff
Diplomatic posts
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Kemal Derviş
Administrator of the
United Nations Development Programme

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