Developing countries pressure US over WB chief

Washington: The US raced against time to nominate a top notch candidate for the World Bank presidency before today`s deadline after developing countries ramped up the pressure by putting forward two credible contenders.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian finance minister and Jose Antonio Ocampo, the former finance minister of Colombia announced their candidature before the deadline, CNN reported.

The White House has until 2200 GMT to announce a candidate to succeed Robert Zoellick as the chief of the world`s leading lender, a post traditionally held by an American in a tactical agreement with Europe.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to be heading a list of probables run by US TV channels. Others in contention were Susan Rice, the US ambassador to UN, powerful Democratic Senator John Kerry and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

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 race to head the World Bank was set in motion after Zoellick announced that he was stepping down after his term ends on June 30.

In contrast to the recent battle to lead the IMF, where the election of French finance minister Christine Lagarde was never in doubt, developing countries are mounting a challenge to the World Bank`s presidency, CNN said.

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 Okonjo-Iweala.

Arvind Subramanian, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said, now test will be whether all the developing countries can coalesce around a single contender once the US has put forward a name.

If there are four or more candidates after nominations close then the World Bank`s executive board will winnow down 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 US and Europe control around half of the votes on the World Bank`s board of directors.