For the first time in the history of the United Nations all member states will get a chance to question the candidates for secretary general, in a move designed to make the usually secret selection process for the world's top diplomatic post more transparent.

The eight hopefuls for one of the world's most high-profile jobs will also hold town hall meetings with the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

They will each pitch their credentials and then answer questions in a two-hour session.

Last year, the General Assembly responded to a demand from many countries that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's successor be chosen in a more open process, unanimously adopting a resolution allowing public hearings on how candidates would respond to global crises and run the UN's far-flung bureaucracy.

The search for a successor to Ban - a former South Korean foreign minister who will step down at the end of the year after two five-year terms - has also prompted a push by more than a quarter of UN states for the first female leader.

While the 15-member Security Council will formally recommend a candidate to the 193-member General Assembly, the General Assembly vote has long been seen as a rubber stamp.

Nations with veto powers - the US, Russia, Britain, China and France - must agree on the nominee.

As part of the changes introduced by the General Assembly last year, the list of candidates has been made public for the first time, with nomination letters and even the candidate's CVs posted online.

Backroom deal

On the surface, it is a shift towards democratisation of a secretive process controlled by the five veto powers.

But there is no requirement for the five to pay attention to the popularity of candidates with the General Assembly, and the winner could still be selected in a backroom Security Council deal as has been the case for seven decades.

When asked if the meetings could have any influence over the veto-power countries, Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said: "It might."

"For us it's important to hear what others think, and I'm sure they will not be shying away [from] telling us who they like, so it's going to be an interesting process," he said.

But there will be no vote or informal polls by the General Assembly to signal to the Security Council who the favoured candidates might be.

"Even the biggest of powers need friends and a majority of their friends are actually asking for a much more open process where they get real influence," Mogens Lykketoft, the Danish diplomat who is president of the General Assembly, said in an interview.

Diplomats told the Reuters news agency that Moscow wanted the UN chief to come from Eastern Europe, in line with an informal tradition of rotating the post between regions.

The first woman?

The council is expected to hold its first "straw poll" - a sort of informal vote - behind closed doors in July and aims to have a decision by September so the General Assembly can elect the next UN chief in October.

A group of at least 56 countries, led by Colombia, and several civil society groups want the UN's first female secretary general since its creation at the end of World War II.

Half of the candidates nominated so far are women: UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria; former Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic; Moldova's former Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman; and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who heads the UN Development Programme.

Also in the race are former Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim; Montenegro Foreign Minister Igor Luksic; former Slovenian President Danilo Turk; and former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who is also a former Portuguese prime minister.

Find out more about them below:

Irina Bokova of Bulgaria has been the director general of the UNESCO since 2009. She is the first woman and the first eastern European to lead the organisation [AP]

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Vesna Pusic of Croatia was the country's foreign minister until January 2016. She is president of the Croatian People's Party - Liberal Democrats [Reuters]

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Natalia Gherman of Moldova was her country's foreign minister for three years until January 2016. Before that, she was ambassador to a number of countries [AP]

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Helen Clark of New Zealand is administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. She was her country's prime minister between 1999 and 2008 [EPA]

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Antonio Manuel de Oliveira Guterres of Portugal was the chief of the UN agency for refugees, UNHCR, until 2015 and served as prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002 [AP]

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Danilo Turk served as the president of Slovenia from 2007 to 2012. He is currently a visiting professor of international law at Columbia University in New York City [AP]

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Igor Luksic of Montenegro had been the country's foreign minister since 2012. He resigned from his post in April to devote time to preparing for the candidacy [AP]

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Srgjan Kerim of Macedonia was the president of the 62nd Session of the General Assembly between 2008 and 2009. Before that, he was his country's foreign minister between 2000 and 2001 [AP]

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Source: Al Jazeera and agencies