Lagarde in wings as candidates emerge for IMF job
The race to succeed disgraced IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn officially got under way Monday, with French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde tipped as the favorite against at least three opponents.
As nominations officially opened for the International Monetary Fund's next managing director, Lagarde told US television network CNBC that it was "premature" to talk of her taking the job.
But a steamroller of support for her candidacy for one of the most powerful jobs in global finance was building in Europe.
The IMF, the lender of last resort for economies in trouble, has moved swiftly to fill the power vacuum left by Strauss-Kahn's resignation last week to face sexual assault charges in New York.
Late Friday the Fund said the nominating period will run to June 10, and a new managing director was expected to be named by June 30.
Besides Lagarde, three other names were being mentioned: Belgium's finance minister Didier Reynders; the head of Mexico's central bank, Agustin Carstens; and his counterpart in Kazakhstan, Grigori Martchenko.
The exit of former French politician Strauss-Kahn, who is under house arrest in New York and denies the allegations, has exposed the faultlines in the 187-nation institution created by the United States and European powers in the aftermath of World War II.
Emerging-market and developing countries, their economic weight rising, want the end of a gentleman's agreement that has kept a European heading the IMF and an American in charge of the World Bank.
But support has not coalesced on any one person. Mexico announced Sunday it would back Carstens while former Soviet bloc countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States are presenting Martchenko.
With three of its periphery countries in crisis and undergoing joint IMF-EU bailouts, Europe is meanwhile making a strong case for one of their own to continue in the job.
The European Union could announce its candidate at the two-day Group of Eight summit in Deauville, France, that opens Thursday.
Lagarde is "practically a shoo-in", according to an EU source.
The 55-year-old finance minister has drawn praise for her work leading the Group of 20 rich and developing countries under France's presidency this year.
Over the weekend she picked up support from the German and British finance ministers; on Monday Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager added his voice to the chorus.
"It is extremely important for Europe to have a single candidate, and it would be very good if it were Christine Lagarde," De Jager said. "She would have my total support."
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key also backed Lagarde Monday, describing her as "super impressive".
Belgium's Reynders acknowledged Sunday that Lagarde was the favorite, but offered himself as a possible solution if legal problems ensnare her.
"When, like me, you have sat around the table at the International Monetary Fund for 12 years, and have experience as finance minister, of course it would be an interesting job, a job where one could have an impact on economics and politics," he said.
A French court is expected to decide in the coming weeks on a request for a probe of Lagarde's handling of a high-profile dispute involving tycoon Bernard Tapie and the bank Credit Lyonnais.
She intervened by ordering a panel of judges to arbitrate the case, leading to a 2008 ruling that awarded Tapie 240 million euros ($336.1 million) in damages.
On Friday the 24-member IMF executive board pledged "an open, merit-based, and transparent" selection process based on consensus, though it could come to a vote by the board.
The United States, which remains uncommitted though Lagarde is popular in Washington, controls 16.8 percent of the votes, while seven European directors hold 31.5 percent.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, until recently considered a serious contender for France's presidency, resigned last Wednesday after being arrested May 14 in New York on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel maid. He has denied all charges.
In an email dated Sunday and sent to IMF staff, he called the charges against him a "personal nightmare" and insisted he would be cleared.
© 2011 AFP