Christine Lagarde Launches Bid to Become First Woman IMF Head

Christine Lagarde, France’s Finance Minister, has formally launched her campaign to become the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Wednesday. If successful Lagarde, 55, would be the first woman to run the fund since the global financial institution was founded in 1946.

Lagarde’s campaign has been gathering pace over the past week as numerous high profile names have come forward to support her candidacy to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned last week after being charged with sexual assault.

The IMF has been shrouded in controversy over Strauss-Kahn’s resignation, and the issue of his successor is turning out to be a vitally important one for global aid and poverty.

The IMF’s engagement historically has been overshadowed by its Washington neighbor and intergovernmental counterpart, the World Bank, which focuses on development and assistance for less developed nations, while the Fund has traditionally specialized in financing. However, since the global recession, the Fund has expanded its poverty and aid profile and has shown a more willing approach, particularly in the African continent.

Lagarde may be seen by many as an ideal successor to take the IMF forward, however, despite widespread support for Lagarde’s candidacy, there is also a growing voice of dissenters, particularly among emerging market countries, saying that the position should not simply be reserved for a European.

Among those voicing their concerns are IMF leaders from Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa, who have highlighted that the convention of a European being given the position as the IMF MD undermines the organization’s legitimacy. They have called for a more “transparent, merit-based and competitive process”.

As she launched her campaign, Lagarde has tried to allay these fears, and has insisted she would not be serving as a European, nor as a French person, “but as someone at the service of the fund (the IMF) and its members”.

Lagarde has already won the support of the UK, Germany and the European Commission. The US is rumored to look favorably on Lagarde. It has been reported that Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, will be hoping to win formal backing from President Barack Obama when he arrives in France for the G8 summit on Thursday.

The only non-European candidates in the race so far are Agustín Carstens, Governor of the central bank of Mexico, and Grigory Marchenko, who leads the central bank of Kazakhstan.

Lagarde now intends to hold “deeper discussions with certain IMF members” about her proposals for the fund, and poverty and aid organizations across developing countries will be listening intently to Lagarde’s stance and proposals for the IMF’s continued work in these sectors.