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Realpolitik rules in race to replace Strauss-Kahn

By Nina dos Santos, CNN Anchor
Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn appears for his arraignment in federal court May 16, 2011 in New York City.
Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn appears for his arraignment in federal court May 16, 2011 in New York City.
  • Dominique Strauss-Kahn has stepped down as IMF head
  • A new appointment may take weeks due to the political and economic implications
  • Candidates have to be nominated by the IMF executive board
  • The process may be expedited due to current difficult economic conditions

CNN -- Job of the week: "one managing director required to run the world's biggest 'lender of last resort'. The successful candidate will be an experienced policymaker with excellent diplomacy skills. Those with a 'colorful' personal life though need not apply."

You can just imagine officials at the International Monetary Fund scrambling to put the final touches to its latest job spec following the resignation of their managing director last night.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn's decision to step down to fight allegations of sexual assault has got the world's highest-profile power-brokers quickly dusting off their resumes. His departure has also sent economists into a frenzy with many drafting their own lists of who might make the cut.

The reality is that we may not know for several days or even weeks who will take control of the fund's $750 billion lending capacity and its 2,500 staff. This is because the appointment of a new MD is both political and economic.

The decisions on who gets nominated and eventually chosen occur behind closed doors, first at a country level and then on an international stage.

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In fact, the opaque nature of the selection process, combined with emerging markets calls for more of a say, means the IMF has now agreed to increase its transparency about how its next MD will be chosen.

In the meantime though, this is broadly speaking how it worked the last time, when Strauss-Kahn himself became MD in 2007:

Nomination: The first hurdle candidates have to climb is convincing someone on the IMF's 24-member executive board to nominate them. Though some 187 countries are technically represented in the boardroom, the real power players are from Europe and the United States. And while a candidate doesn't have to secure nomination from his or her country's representative per-se it's an uphill battle without it. Last month UK Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly indicated he wouldn't back his predecessor Gordon Brown, meaning that however much Brown may want the job, he'll probably have to find his support from another nation.

Appointment: Once nominated, candidates must confirm in writing that they are interested in the post. They will then be called to Washington to meet with the executive committee. (So watch out for any international finance ministers on transatlantic flights perhaps.) At these stages candidacies are kept confidential. The executive board then meets to decide upon who would be the best person for the job. Though the board can chose in favor of a candidate based a majority vote, the IMF says it prefers to decide by 'consensus.'

The process of picking the next IMF MD is a thorough one and prone to some serious bouts of 'realpolitik' but there are a couple of reasons why this time it might be expedited.


1) The damaging allegations leveled against Strauss-Kahn (ones he has denied) have cast a shadow over the prestigious IMF at a time when its representatives are embroiled in fraught negotiations over Greece's 2010 bailout terms and mounting debt burden.

2) Also, U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Britain next week will put change at the IMF high up on his agenda when he sits down with David Cameron.

While Strauss-Kahn's decision to stand aside may give leaders cause for relief it does leave a power vacuum at the head of the 67-year-old institution because his deputy, John Lipsky, has already said he will leave in August.

Which means it's a good thing there are plenty of people are in the running because soon the IMF will have another top post to fill.