Emerging Economies Flex Clout in Hunt for World Bank Chief

Article excerpt

Though the U.S. 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, the World Bank is considering more than one candidate for its five-year presidency -- a change that reflects the fast-growing clout of emerging economies, even as it raises questions over whether that change is coming quickly enough.

Experts say that victory is all but assured for the U.S. nominee, Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and an expert in global health. But emerging and developing economies are rallying behind Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the 57-year-old Nigerian finance minister, and Jose Antonio Ocampo, the former Colombian finance minister and high-ranking U.N. official, who is 59.

The World Bank's 25-member board will interview all three candidates in the coming weeks and plans to announce its new president by the I.M.F.-World Bank meetings in mid-April. Robert B. Zoellick, the current president, will step down at the end of June.

Ms. Okonjo-Iweala and Mr. Ocampo have won the endorsement of a group of developing economies. And the United States is weathering criticism for the time-honored gentlemen's agreement that ensures its control of the World Bank, even if the institution's presidential selection process is 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 in New York State 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 endorsements from a number of prominent commentators, like the development economist Jeffrey Sachs. Europe is expected to back him in that 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 resumes and expertise in development and international economic negotiation. 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 -- working directly beneath the president -- from 2007 until last July. In Nigeria, she has fought to reduce the country's debt, gain greater access to international credit markets and battle corruption.

Mr. Ocampo served as finance minister and head of the Colombian central bank and led the United Nations' economic development arm.

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 he said his four decades of experience in development and international policy made him an excellent candidate. "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 toward 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 for herself, Mr. …