World Bank Reflects New Order in Hunt for President ; U.S. Nominee Favored, but Emerging Economies Display Clout in Process

Article excerpt

Though the American nominee is virtually certain to win, the fact that more than one candidate is in the running attests to the rising political and economic clout of the developed world.

For the first time in its history, the World Bank is considering more than one candidate for its five-year presidency, a change that reflects the fast-growing political and economic clout of emerging economies, even as it raises questions over whether change is coming quickly enough.

Experts say that victory is all but assured for the American nominee, Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College and an expert in global health. But emerging and developing economies are rallying behind Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian finance minister, and Jose Antonio Ocampo, the former Colombian finance minister and high-ranking United Nations official.

Ms. Okonjo-Iweala and Mr. Ocampo have won the vocal endorsement of a spate of developing economies. And the United States is weathering criticism over the gentlemen's agreement that continues to ensure its control of the World Bank, even if the institution's presidential selection process appears to be opening up.

"For all its virtues, this nomination and its predetermined success reflects how global governance continues to lag behind shifting economic realities," said Eswar S. Prasad, a professor at Cornell University and an expert on international institutions. "Domestic politics has again trumped true multilateralism."

Global health experts largely applauded Dr. Kim's nomination, and he has scooped up the endorsement of a number of prominent commentators, including the development economist Jeffrey Sachs. Europe is expected to back him, as the United States supported the candidacy of Christine Lagarde, the former French finance minister, for managing director of the International Monetary Fund last year.

Ms. Okonjo-Iweala and Mr. Ocampo were carefully vetted and specifically chosen for their long experience in development and international economic negotiation. But with both of them running, support may be divided between them. African governments lobbied the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, to encourage Ms. Okonjo- Iweala to run; the Group of 11 emerging economies pushed for Mr. Ocampo.

Ms. Okonjo-Iweala was a World Bank managing director from 2007 until last July. In Nigeria she has fought to reduce the country's debt, win greater access to international credit markets and battle corruption. Mr. Ocampo served as finance minister and the head of the Colombian central bank, and he led the arm of the United Nations that facilitates economic development.

In an interview, Mr. Ocampo expressed some initial hesitancy to enter the race, given the odds. "It is a relatively unbalanced competition," he said with a laugh. But his four decades of experience in international policy-making, he said, made him an excellent candidate for the position.

"I thought the developing-country candidates who were suitable for the job should be in the race," he said. "I felt a responsibility to put a stone in the road towards a democratic process."

Speaking by telephone from New Delhi, where she was attending the BRICS meeting of leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala also called for a merit-based, transparent selection process, suggesting a televised debate between herself, Mr. Ocampo and Dr. Kim.

"I have tremendous respect for Dr. Kim," she said. "But you're looking for the best. You're not just looking for the acceptable. …