BELGRADE – Hacked emails, bogus Twitter accounts, smear allegations and backroom deals. Welcome to the race for the international community’s top diplomatic job – United Nations secretary general, writes The Guardian.

On Monday, the UN security council will hold the fifth of a series of straw polls aimed at picking a winner from the remaining nine contenders in the race, in which the 15 council members will cast secret ballots.

The clear leader to date has been António Guterres, the former Portuguese prime minister and UN high commissioner for refugees. He has been a clear front runner in the past three security council meetings and in the latest, on 9 September, he received 12 encourage votes and only two discouraging him (members’ ballots can encourage, discourage or express no opinion about a candidate). But his route to the secretary generalship could still be blocked by a veto from one of the five permanent council members, most plausibly Russia.

In second place is Slovakia’s foreign minister, Miroslav Lajčák, who enjoyed a surprise surge from second last after his country’s pro-Russia prime minister, Robert Fico, visited Moscow four days before the third poll and made a point of highlighting his criticisms of EU sanctions on Russia over Crimea. For that reason, Lajčák may face a veto from one or more of the western members of the permanent five.

Third-placed Vuk Jeremić, the former Serbian foreign minister, will almost certainly be vetoed by the US, diplomats say. Washington has not forgiven Jeremić for his opposition to Kosovan independence, amid its perception that he used his time as president of the general assembly as a platform for nationalist rhetoric.

The threat of vetoes, however, will only become decisive in the next round, when the permanent five will cast coloured ballots. Any candidate who receives a coloured ballot among their discourage votes will know they have hit a stone wall, The Guardian writes.