The United States is under intense pressure to nominate a top-notch candidate for the World Bank presidency after developing countries put forward two credible contenders of their own.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian finance minister, and José Antonio Ocampo, the former finance minister of Colombia, will be nominated as candidates for the presidency before the deadline on Friday.
Since its creation in 1944, the president of the World Bank has always been an American, but developing countries are pressing for a merit-based competition. The U.S. will lose legitimacy if it foists a low-calibre leader on the institution when there are well-qualified candidates from developing countries.
"The candidacies are more than symbolic," Mr. Ocampo told the Financial Times. "They are a testament that developing countries can put up good and credible candidates – perhaps as good or better than the U.S. candidates."
The U.S. is expected to put forward a candidate before Friday's deadline. Leading options are Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary who has a heavyweight economic reputation but some opponents in the U.S. and abroad, and Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, has been nominated by some smaller developing countries.
In contrast to the recent battle to lead the International Monetary Fund, which was never in real doubt as French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde raced around the world to secure support, developing countries are organized to challenge a procession to the World Bank presidency.
"We as emerging markets and developing countries have been making a concerted effort to identify our most qualified and competent candidates," said Amar Bhattacharya, director of the G24 office in Washington. The G24 is an economic umbrella group for the largest developing countries, and the BRIC group of Brazil, Russia, India and China has also been active in debating candidates.
Ms. Okonjo-Iweala is a former World Bank managing director now serving her second term as Nigeria's finance minister. "What is significant is that while she was put forward, she did not seek the nomination herself," said a Nigerian government source. "But there is so much enthusiasm for her to head the World Bank. It's a campaign by emerging market countries." South Africa and several other African countries are backing Ms. Okonjo-Iweala.
Arvind Subramanian, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said that Ms. Okonjo-Iweala was one of his top candidates for the job. "She has a lot of hands-on development experience with the big issues of governance and corruption," he said.
Another emerging market candidate could appear before Friday. The big test, however, will be whether all the developing countries can coalesce around a single contender once the U.S. has put forward a name.
"All the other major international institutions have open competitions. The UN does, so does the WTO, the OECD. The IMF and the World Bank are very anomalous in that regard," Mr. Ocampo said. "We have joined this race in the expectation that this time it would be different."
If there are four or more candidates after nominations close then the World Bank's executive board will winnow down the choice to a shortlist of three for interview. The executive board is made up of 25 directors who represent constituencies of countries around the world.
Actual voting power is related to capital paid into the Bank. Between them, the U.S. and Europe control around half of the votes on the World Bank's board of directors.
The Financial Times