The candidacy of Bank of Mexico Governor Agustin Carstens as director of the International Monetary Fund should be taken seriously, even though the front-runner, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, is widely expected to win.
Since the now 187-nation IMF was established in 1944, its leader has always been a European, and this monopoly is no longer acceptable. The pressure to reform the IMF has gained momentum, following last month's unexpected departure of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was forced to resign after being charged with sexually assaulting a hotel chambermaid. Developing countries are lobbying for someone from their ranks in recognition of the increasingly important role countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China play in the global economy - and in its recovery from the 2008 recession.
They are right; it is time to look beyond Europe, and give an audience to other credible candidates from emerging markets - even if they remain underdogs.
"The main incentive for my nomination is to let the voice of emerging countries be heard at the IMF so that the institution grows more plural and open," said Mr. Carstens, during a campaign stop in Argentina last week. At 52, he has already held the post of deputy managing director and executive director of the IMF, and calls himself a pragmatic, but not orthodox, economist, committed to dealing with the eurozone crisis, and with IMF reform.
Ms. Lagarde is a lawyer, not an economist. But she is a persuasive negotiator and a powerful member of the Sarkozy cabinet. She has the backing of the European Union nations, while the U.S., Japan and developing nations have not endorsed anyone.
Ms. Lagarde is campaigning in Brazil and other developing countries, pledging to give them more of a voice in IMF operations. Only 24 countries on the IMF's executive board actually vote June 30, with most countries voting in constituency groups. Europe, with 35 per cent of the votes, and the U.S., with 17 per cent, dominate.
The candidacy of Mr. Carstens, who is visiting Ottawa on Tuesday, is an important step forward, and reflects the growing consensus that the decision of who should lead the IMF should be based on merit, not nationality.