Lagarde's IMF pitch fails to win Indian backing

7th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

France's Christine Lagarde failed on Tuesday to win public backing from India for her bid to lead the IMF as she continued her global roadshow aimed at overcoming opposition in emerging countries.

The French finance minister, who has already travelled to Brazil to press her case, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee during a day of talks with the Indian leadership.

Despite a lunch with Mukherjee which she described as "excellent" and an indication of the "deep relationship between France and India," she finished her meetings in the capital without receiving any declaration of support.

"The selection of the managing director of the IMF or that of the World Bank should be on the basis of merit, competence, and (be made) in a transparent manner," Mukherjee said after Tuesday's meetings.

Commentators had predicted before Lagarde's arrival that India would be unlikely to back her, preferring instead to focus on trying to work with allies in the emerging world to form a consensus on their own candidate.

"I was not here seeking assurance or reassurance. I was here to present my candidacy," she told reporters afterwards, adding that she was eager to "listen to the concerns" of an important emerging market economy.

"It would be premature and arrogant on my part to expect assurance or reassurance," she said.

New Delhi and other large emerging powers have been highly critical of Europe's stranglehold on the managing director position at the Washington-based IMF, which has been filled by a European since its inception in 1944.

Mukherjee said talks with Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa -- the so-called BRICS bloc -- aimed at agreeing on a joint candidate were continuing.

"It's not possible to say whether there will be a common candidate," he said.

India has so far declined to publicly support any candidate in the race to fill the top job at the lender, which fell vacant with the resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn over allegations of sexual assault in New York last month.

In a New York court on Monday, the 62-year-old pleaded not guilty to the attempted rape of a hotel maid.

The only other serious contender, Mexico's central bank chief Agustin Carstens, is to visit Canada on Tuesday and India on Friday on a tour that has already seen him stop off in Brazil and Argentina.

"He is also a competent person and we are going to have a discussion," Mukherjee said.

The deadline for nominations is on Friday, leaving only a few days for anyone else to emerge.

Lagarde, a 55-year-old former lawyer, has pledged to reform the IMF to give emerging and developing countries more power and she said she would be at ease running an institution whose male-dominated culture is under scrutiny.

"If I was elected as managing director, I would stand on my feet as a woman ... with a level of testosterone that would be lower than many in the room today," she joked.

She also dismissed concern that a court case in France involving her could potentially derail her campaign, saying she was "not worried at all".

In May, a public prosecutor recommended a judicial inquiry into Lagarde's role in awarding a payout to Bernard Tapie, a former left-wing minister and personal friend of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Lagarde is due in China on Wednesday before heading on Friday to Lisbon, where African finance ministers and central bankers will be meeting for the African Development Bank's annual gathering.

Much could hinge on whether China unites with other BRICS nations rather than doing its own deal with Europe and the United States, with some reports suggesting China is negotiating to install its own candidate as her number two.

Indian Prime Minister Singh has conceded that changes to the IMF and other global institutions to reflect the rise of Asia and other emerging countries will take time, telling reporters last month that it would be a "long haul".

Other Indian officials have stressed that the current voting rights for the IMF give Europe, the United States and Japan overwhelming influence and ability to force through their candidate as the next head.

© 2011 AFP

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