The U.S. is about to get a run for its money. While its hold on the top spot at the World Bank has never been challenged, two developing nations have nominated their own candidates for presidency of the powerful institution. Current president Robert Zoellnick is due to leave the post in June at the end of his term.
Reuters reported Wednesday that Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo are expected to be nominated to head the body by the Friday deadline. Both have credentials as economists and as diplomats.
The Obama administration intends to submit its own candidate for the post by Friday. Ocampo was expected to be formally nominated by Brazil; currently he is a professor at Columbia University in New York. Okonjo-Iweala’s name was expected, according to different sources, to be submitted either Wednesday or Friday.
While the 187 member nations of the World Bank have pledged to commit to a merit-based process to choose its next president, a candidate from the U.S. has headed the institution since it was first formed after World War II.
Domenico Lombardi, a former World Bank board official now at the Brookings Institution in Washington, was quoted saying, “The impressive credentials of both Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala puts tremendous pressure on the White House to come up with a candidate of at least equivalent standing. This signals a big shift and really reflects a game change. This is the first time in history we have a truly contested election.”
Okonjo-Iweala was sought by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 to join his cabinet as he aimed to strengthen his reform agenda. Renosi Mokate, South Africa’s director at the World Bank, also represents Nigeria and other English-speaking African countries, and personally went to Abuja to discuss Okonjo-Iweala’s potential candidacy with her.
The American economist Jeffrey Sachs has the backing of a handful of small countries and is also on the list; he does not have the U.S. administration’s support, and was nominated instead by Bhutan and a group of developing countries that includes East Timor, Jordan, Kenya, Namibia and Malaysia.
Lawrence Summers is on the White House short list, as is Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. However, it is not known whether Rice wants the position. The administration is reported to want a woman to take the top spot; the World Bank presidency has thus far only been held by men.
According to Lombardi, the question is whether large emerging economies, such as China, would support either Ocampo or Okonjo-Iweala or would in the end throw their support to the U.S. candidate, whoever it turns out to be.