Can a Zambian-born U.S. citizen and former Citibank executive whose government has already endorsed another candidate and who is two years over the age cut-off become a compromise in the search for a new managing director of the International Monetary fund?
Stanley Fischer, the 67-year-old head of the Bank of Israel, is well respected in international economic circles and has deep ties at the fund, where he served as the first deputy managing director for seven years, until 2001.
But the discussion of Fischer as a possible candidate in reports carried by Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal might say less about Fischer than it does about how difficult it will prove to break the 60-year-old monopoly that Europe has held on the IMF’s top position.
That job was held until two weeks ago by French economist and politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned after being charged by New York officials for an alleged sexual assault.
Since then there has been a global chatfest among heads of state, top economic officials, think tank analysts, non-governmental officials and journalists about who might succeed Strauss-Kahn, and whether it isn’t time to give non-Europeans a fair crack at the job.
But as European leaders rally around French finance minister Christine Lagarde, the rest of the world dithers in a haze of trial balloons and imaginary candidacies.
There is an alternative to Lagarde. Mexican central bank governor Agustin Carstens has been nominated by his country and made his case in a letter to the IMF board — but has yet to get any formal endorsements.
Other names continue in circulation, despite long odds.
Former Turkish finance minister Kemal Dervis, a man who helped rescue Turkey’s economy and is seen as possible bridge between east and west?
He has already pulled out of the race.
Singapore finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam?
He has picked up formal endorsements from figures like the finance minister of Thailand — but has taken on several new jobs in his home country and is not, Singapore officials say, likely to put himself in the running.
Yet the rumors persist, a demonstration of how difficult it may be to break the European hold on the IMF executive suite.
Once the post-European era is declared, who comes next? Does the rest of the world take turns? Can you have a merit-based selection if there are half a dozen candidates with largely equivalent qualifications? Would a China or India be happy with a Brazilian or South African in the top chair — or vice versa?
The logic behind a Fischer candidacy, described in a Wall Street Journal story based on comments from an unnamed “official familiar with his thinking,” was, as the story itself said, somewhat stretched.
It would take an IMF board that is deadlocked between Lagarde and Carstens; willing to view Fischer as an African candidate, which adds diversity to the fund’s leadership; able to move beyond the regional politics likely to be raised by the candidacy of the head of the Bank of Israel (Egypt has a vote on the board; Israel is represented in a group headed by the Netherlands); and ready to waive its own requirements that no managing director be appointed to a full term after age 65.
What are Israelis saying?
At the Group of Eight meeting in France, Israeli finance minister Yuval Steinitz said he has made his choice: Christine Lagarde.