Because of the nature of the incident that led to the demise of Dominique Strauss-Kahn as managing director of the IMF, and following his formal resignation late Wednesday, the pendulum could now swing to a woman, with the strong backing of another woman.
By my count, at least 20 nations, from Turkey to Japan and from South Africa to Singapore, are busy promoting their own candidate for the job. But it doesnt seem likely that Europe, which has had a grip on the IMF helm since the Fund was created at Bretton Woods in 1947, will relinquish the honor in a context of Eurozone debt turmoil.
Perhaps the reason the Mexican government has been remiss in pushing its own candidate is that even if it were to join forces with Brazil and enlist all of Latin America, the regions combined contributions to the IMF do not exceed 6%, and thats not a whole lot of bargaining power.
The way it looks today, the frontrunner is the French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who is in the lead not only because of her impeccable credentials but also because she has the solid backing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Newspapers all over the world have been recounting an incident at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January that illustrates Lagardes character. It may have been a minor thing, but it ultimately showed that she has the poise and savvy of a true leader.
It seems Lagarde was on a panel at Davos when her usual smile turned into a frown. Next to her, Robert E. Diamond Jr., chief executive of Barclays and one of the most powerful bankers in the world, thanked regulators and finance ministers for their role in shaping a better environment after the financial crisis.
She looked straight at Diamond. The best way for the banking sector to say thank you would be to actually have, you know, good financing of the economy, sensible compensation systems in place and reinforcement of their capital, she replied, to a burst of applause.
She is deemed to be a people person, with enormous talent for conciliation, and yet another of her strong points may be one not listed on her résumé.
Whats happened with Strauss-Kahn underscores how great it would be to have a woman in the role, said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a former I.M.F. chief economist who is now a professor at Harvard University.
Were Lagarde, who is 55, to get the nod, she would become the first woman to run the IMF or any large multilateral financial institution. But in Rogoffs perception, gender is only part of her appeal.
She is enormously impressive, politically astute and a strong personality, he said. At finance meetings all over the world, she is treated practically like a rock star.
Just like their counterparts throughout the developing world and particularly in the G-20 (with the exception of Mexico), European officials are frantically maneuvering to keep one of their own in the post. But it wont be that easy due to the rising clout of the emerging world that includes China, Russia, India and Brazil.
Three years after financial excesses in the United States and Europe brought the world economy to the brink of catastrophe, Strauss-Kahn has become the latest symbol of what many see as the faults of the rich and spoiled Western world.
Lagardes main competition,, analysts say, is another policy maker with an alternate profile, Kemal Dervis, a former finance minister of Turkey. Dervis is credited with rescuing the Turkish economy after it was hit by a devastating financial crisis in 2001, in part by securing a multibillion-dollar loan from the IMF. Before that, Dervis worked at the World Bank for 24 years.
On the minus side, Lagardes biggest drawback as a candidate might be that she is French, like DSK. Yet, recent history suggests it might not be such a big disqualifier. Between 1978 and 2000, two Frenchmen Jacques de Larosiere and Michel Camdessus were the successive chiefs of the IMF.
Formerly president of the Chicago-based law firm Baker & McKenzie, Lagarde lived in the United States for 25 years. Tall and stylish, with a shock of silver hair and a penchant for Chanel jackets, she is as connected and as respected in Washington and on Wall Street as in Europe.
Her lightly accented English is almost flawless, a rarity among top French officials, which contributes to her reputation for sharp-tongued wit.
In an interview with Christiane Amanpour on ABC last year, Lagarde observed that women inject less libido, less testosterone into the workplace than men, a remark that seems totally relevant in the wake of DSKs scandal.