“If I’m elected, I will bring all my expertise as a lawyer, a minister, a manager and a woman” to the IMF, she said Wednesday as she announced her candidacy in Paris.
Lagarde, 55, would be the first woman — and first non-economist — to run the male-dominated fund. Her appointment could help alter the institution’s culture after Dominque Strauss-Kahn, the previous managing director and presumptive Socialist Party presidential candidate, was forced to resign this month after being charged with sexual assault.
In recent days, European leaders have coalesced behind Lagarde’s candidacy. Her supporters call her a formidable negotiator, a key to uniting a bickering Europe in the quest to save the euro and manage the debt crisis that has rocked the continent over the past 18 months.
“She’s not from the priesthood of world-class economists,” said Mark Medish, a senior Treasury official under President Bill Clinton who has known Lagarde for a decade.
“Like a good lawyer, she’s learned her finance ministry brief, but she brings a broader perspective than many of her peers in other countries,” he said, “something that goes beyond the arithmetic of tax and revenue policy. That accounts for her success and popularity.”
But in other ways, Lagarde would be an all-too-familiar choice for the IMF’s top job. France has supplied four of the 10 managing directors in the history of the fund, which was created in 1944. French officials have run the IMF for 25 of the past 38 years. (An American traditionally gets the top post at the World Bank.)
On Tuesday night, IMF executive directors representing Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa called for “a truly transparent, merit-based and competitive [selection] process” that they said “requires abandoning the obsolete unwritten convention that requires that the head of the IMF be necessarily from Europe.”
“I think that this is a moment not to have a European as head of the IMF,” said Luigi Zingales, a finance professor at the University of Chicago. “The time has come to make these institutions more international and not just leftovers from World War II.”
A list of respected alternatives is being bandied about, including Mexican central banker Agustin Carstens, a former senior IMF official with a PhD from the University of Chicago, who declared his candidacy this week. Other ministers or central bankers from Brazil, India, Malaysia and South Africa are considered qualified contenders.