Speculation over Christine Lagarde's successor at IMF, Tharman among candidates listed

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, who is poised to become the next president of the European Central Bank, with Singapore Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum last year.
IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, who is poised to become the next president of the European Central Bank, with Singapore Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum last year.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

NYT lists Tharman as among candidates; issue is whether IMF will break with tradition to appoint a non-European

With Ms Christine Lagarde poised to become the next president of the European Central Bank, the question now is who will succeed her as managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

And underlying that is another big question: Given Asia's growing influence in the global economy, will there be a break with the tradition of appointing a European to the fund's top spot?

A New York Times report yesterday revealed several names on early shortlists for the post, including Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is Coordinating Minister for Social Policies and chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. He was the first Asian to chair the fund's International Monetary and Financial Committee from 2011 to 2015.

Other names include Mr Agustin Carstens, a former IMF deputy managing director, Mr Mohamed El-Erian, a former chief executive of global investment management firm Pimco, and Mr Mark Carney, the departing governor of the Bank of England.

The IMF's managing director is chosen by its 24-member executive board, which represents all 189 member countries. The person who fills the position must have "a distinguished record in economic policymaking at senior levels", is typically selected by consensus and has traditionally been European, just as the head of the World Bank has been American.

Mr Vasuki Shastry, an associate fellow for the Asia-Pacific programme at Chatham House and a former global head of public affairs for the IMF, said three key challenges awaited the organisation's incoming leader.

The first is making IMF more relevant at a time when multilateralism and globalisation are under threat. Second, since emerging markets still harbour some suspicion of the IMF after the Asian financial crisis, its new head will need to bridge that gap.

Lastly, any new crises will be very difficult to overcome. "The managing director will have to prepare the institution and make sure it has enough capital and resources to do so," said Mr Shastry, who was at the IMF for 16 years until 2017. Before that, he was Indonesia bureau chief for The Business Times.

 
 
 

Other candidates could include Mr Raghuram Rajan, who was governor of the Reserve Bank of India, and Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, he said.

On whether or not the new head of the fund will be a European, sociopolitical commentator Devadas Krishnadas said two factors determine whether there will be a break in tradition.

The first is the support of the current US administration as it controls the single largest share of the vote, while the second is the receptivity of the European economies to ceding a position they have hitherto dominated.

"Given Donald Trump's proclivity for disruption and Singapore's good standing with the United States and Europe, as well as Mr Tharman's professional stature, prospects for his candidature, should he be willing, are not unrealistic," said Mr Devadas, chief executive of the Future-Moves Group.

Dr Tan Khee Giap, co-director of the Asia Competitiveness Institute at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said the new IMF leader will have to be someone "very international".

"It must be someone who understands the East and the West, and understands both developing and advanced economies," he said, adding that Mr Tharman will be a good fit.

Mr Shastry said: "Someone like Mr Tharman ticks all the boxes. If he is nominated, I think there will be a lot of international support."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2019, with the headline 'Speculation over Lagarde's successor at IMF'. Print Edition | Subscribe