Friday marked two substantial developments in the race for World Bank presidency as one of the three candidates, Columbia University professor and former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo, withdrew his bid for the position and Russia and Canada pledged their support for College President Jim Yong Kim’s candidacy, according to Reuters.
Ocampo who was nominated by the Brazilian government at the request of the Dominican Republic said in a statement that his candidacy had been handicapped by a lack of open support from his home country, which stated last month that it was aiming to concentrate on a more likely successful campaign for a Colombian president of the International Labor Organization, Reuters reported.
The contest for the presidency marks an unprecedented challenge to U.S. control of the World Bank, since an American citizen has always run the World Bank, according to The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper. In 2009, President Barack Obama agreed with other G20 summit leaders that future international leaders would be chosen in an open system and based on merit, The Globe and Mail reported. During the past week, all candidates were interviewed by the World Bank.
Nonetheless, Reuters reported that Ocampo said in a statement, “It is clear that the process is shifting from a strict merit-based competition, in which my candidacy stood on strong grounds, into a more political-oriented exercise.”
Ocampo, a noted development economist, has held positions in both government and academia, including chair of Colombia’s Central Bank, the United Nations Undersecretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and member of the Board of Visitors of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at the College. He is also currently the director of the economic and political development concentration at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and is a public affairs professor at the university.
His withdrawal leaves Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iwaeala, who served as the World Bank managing director and World Bank Group vice president, as the sole candidate campaigning against Kim.
“I would say [Ocampo] was the weakest of the three candidates, and it was not a surprise that he dropped out,” Dartmouth economics professor Douglas Irwin said in an email to The Dartmouth. “Now it is a two person race, but Kim still has a strong edge because the United States and its allies back him.”
Ocampo said he hoped emerging-market nations would rally behind Okonjo-Iwaeala, as they both represented developing countries in their candidacy.
Columbia University economics professor Jagdish Bhagwati criticized Ocampo’s bid, however, for initially splitting developing countries’ support.
“The candidacy of Mr. Ocampo was a selfish and disastrous move because it implied that the far superior candidacy of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a dream candidate’ in terms of her ability and experience, was an African’ choice whereas Ocampo was the Latin American’ choice,” Bhagwati wrote in an email to The Dartmouth. “Ocampo’s withdrawal at this late stage only underlines his irresponsibility in advancing his lackluster candidacy. Ocampo has made Dr. Kim’s election much more likely, though the U.S. rejection of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala remains a blot on Obama’s record.”
The potential of a united front from developing countries with emerging markets dissolved when Russia, one of the most rapidly-growing economic powers in the world, announced it would support Kim, according to Reuters.
After Kim met with Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov on Friday, the Russian Finance Ministry said in a statement reported by Reuters, “Taking into account Mr. Kim’s considerable professional qualities, as well as his experience and knowledge, the Russian Federation will support the candidacy of Jim Yong Kim during the voting by the Bank’s board of directors.”
The statement also said that Kim had gained significant experience through his work in Russia with the World Health Organization, for which he served in various roles from 2003 to 2005. A public health expert, Kim has already been in Asia and parts of Latin and Central America and Africa on a “listening tour” to meet financial leaders.
Reuters reported that Kim is still the favorite to win the presidency, as he also has the support of the United States, European nations, Mexico, Canada, Japan and South Korea, among others.
As the U.S. has veto power and Europe represents the largest voting bloc, the World Bank has always been headed by an American and the International Monetary Fund by a European, which allows Europe and the U.S. considerable influence over the flow of money and policy advice, according to the Globe and Mail.
Reuters reported that Okonjo-Iweala thanked Ocampo and said, “I am proud that Ocampo and I have helped make history by changing the way that World Bank presidential elections are contested.”
Ocampo said that while the selection process was not administered in a fully open, transparent and merit-based fashion, he believes that a strong precedent for an improved system had been established, Reuters reported.
Staff writer Sasha Dudding contributed reporting to this article.