French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde appeared poised to become the head of the IMF this week despite a strong challenge to Europe’s traditional hold on the job.
An informal survey by Reuters of voting countries indicated Lagarde would easily get the majority consensus needed over Mexican Central Bank Governor Agustin Carstens to become the next managing director of the global lender.
Carstens picked up endorsements from Canada and Australia late on Friday in a significant challenge to Europe’s grip on the IMF top post, but it is unlikely to change the outcome.
The IMF’s 24-strong board of member countries were to hold a straw poll yesterday to determine whether either candidate has a clear majority.
The race has been one of the most hotly contested in IMF history as developing countries have aggressively pursued a process that would be based on the best qualified candidate and not based on nationality, despite Europe’s large voting bloc.
The determining voice over the next two days will be the US, which so far has been silent on who it supports.
However, the administration of US President Barack Obama is widely expected to back Lagarde, 55, to preserve the long-standing convention with Europe that the US will be the IMF’s No. 2 official and the president of the World Bank.
People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan (周小川) voiced support yesterday for Lagarde’s bid, Dow Jones Newswires said, in Beijing’s first public statement on the issue.
Zhou, speaking in London as he accompanied Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) on a trip to Europe, said China had already expressed “quite full support” for her candidacy, the report said.
“Of course we still do not know what the final situation will be. Currently, there doesn’t seem to be anything unclear about it,” he was quoted as saying, indicating front-runner Lagarde’s chances of clinching the top job were high.
Lagarde visited China earlier this month to try to win support for her candidacy.
She said she felt “very positive” after her talks with officials, but Beijing had remained non-committal in public about her bid.
Japan, which rank second behind the US in voting influence, has refrained from publicly supporting any candidate. However, IMF board officials said Japan is likely to vote for Lagarde.
The US holds close to 17 percent of the vote. As a group, European countries, including Nordic countries, hold somewhere between 40 percent to 47 percent of the voting sway on the board.
Countries such as Egypt, Indonesia, South Korea, Russia and French-speaking African nations early on declared their support for Lagarde, but represent marginal voting power.
The IMF job fell vacant after the sudden resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who has been charged with sexually assaulting a hotel maid in New York. He denies the charges.
Although a self-proclaimed long-shot candidate, Carstens has vigorously campaigned on his experience as a former IMF official, as well as dealing with developing world economic crises.
He has the backing of all of Latin America, with Peru and Chile endorsing him on Friday. While Brazil has been silent on whether it supports him or not, IMF board officials expect it to join the rest of the region.
Supporters of Lagarde cite her political and economic credentials throughout Europe, which is the focal point of IMF efforts to head off another global economic downturn.