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Lagarde v Carstens for IMF: Who backs whom

Christine Lagarde poses on the roof of her office
Image caption French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde is seen as the leading candidate for the job as IMF head

The two shortlisted candidates to lead the International Monetary Fund have been touring the world to rally support for their candidacies.

On Thursday, Mexico's central bank governor, Agustin Carstens, met senior officials in China to try to win Beijing's support.

Like Christine Lagarde before him, he failed to secure a promise, describing his talks as "fruitful".

But with Europe united behind the French finance minister, even Mr Carstens has described his candidature as "an uphill battle".

Still, some of the most powerful countries have yet to declare who they will support.

"I think it is going to be a very close vote," says academic Lord Desai.

"Until the Americans declare their hand, until the fat lady sings, it's not all over," he added.

The IMF is searching for a new head following the arrest of former managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Mr Strauss-Kahn resigned in May after being charged with the attempted rape of a hotel maid in New York. He has denied the charges.

The IMF plays the role of a global bank and regulator.

It is currently seen as particularly important in Europe where it is involved in the bail-out of Greece and the Irish Republic.

The new managing director will be appointed by the IMF's 24-person board by 30 June.

The vote will be decided through a complex system of quotas.

The system is in the process of reform.

Image caption The new IMF head will have to grapple with complex political problems in Europe

Developing countries say reforms need to be accelerated to give them a bigger say.

Currently the US has the most votes, with almost 16.8% of the total. The UK has 4.5%, while China has just 3.8%.

On 10 June, the IMF produced a shortlist of two candidates, Ms Lagarde and Mr Carstens.

Sixty-seven-year-old Israeli central bank head Stanley Fischer was rejected on grounds of age.

Backing Christine Lagarde

The charismatic French finance minister is seen by most as the front-runner and has the support of Europe.

"My impression has been that Christine Lagarde has got it pretty much sewn up," says Aiden Manktelow from the Economist Intelligence Unit.

A European has headed the IMF for the past 65 years in an informal agreement with the US to divide up the top jobs at the IMF and World Bank.

Developing countries have called for the new IMF head to be chosen on merit rather than nationality.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy has said Ms Lagarde is "superbly qualified" for the job.

Having previously backed a candidate from a developing country, British Prime Minister David Cameron said last month there was a "good case" for the job going to a European.

The rest of the European Union and Norway is expected to vote the same way.

In May, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he "fully endorsed" Ms Lagarde's candidacy.

The European endorsement of a French candidate has been criticised by some in the developing world.

"The Europeans really played this game very badly. It's the arrogance, the assumption that they should just have the MD [managing director of the IMF], just taken for granted, it really undermines a very good candidature and a very good candidate," says Dr Paola Subacchi, research director in international economics at Chatham House.

Ms Lagarde has so far garnered limited declared support outside of Europe.

In Africa, she has the support of former French colonies Senegal and Guinea-Bissau.

The Egyptian foreign minister, Nabil El-Araby, has also announced his support for the French candidate.

Backing Agustin Carstens

Mr Carstens lacks strong support from a powerful voting bloc within the IMF.

"It's like starting a baseball game with a score of 5-0 without a single pitch having been pitched, because you know the Europeans haven't embraced the spirit of the process," he said on Thursday.

Some Latin American countries have come out in support of the Mexican.

Earlier this month, Columbia's foreign minister Maria Angela Holguin, said her country and a group of others would back him.

They include Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Panama, Uruguay, Mexico, Paraguay, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Nigeria.

Of those, Mexico has the most votes, with just 1.5% of the total.

Brazil and Argentina have not yet said which way they will vote.

Undecided

Indeed, the bulk of votes at the IMF are not yet declared.

Image caption Agustin Carstens visited China to rally support for his candidacy

Russia has suggested it may support Ms Lagarde, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin saying last month that she was "completely acceptable" for the role.

The two rivals have both held meetings with officials in the United States.

Following in Ms Lagarde's footsteps, Mr Carstens met US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on Monday.

A spokesperson praised his "strong mix of financial talent and political skills".

The Mexican central bank head has previously served as the deputy director of the IMF.

However, US officials would not be drawn on who they support.

During her visits to China, India and Brazil, Ms Largarde failed to gain any promises of support.

"Despite the fact that they like her and obviously they respect her a lot, despite all of this, she couldn't really get the support of China and India," said Ms Subacchi.

Mr Carstens has so far also failed in his efforts.

While supporters of Christine Lagarde say a European is needed to handle the political complexity of the debt crisis in the eurozone, Mr Carstens argues the reverse.

"We'd have a situation where the borrowers dominate a creditor institution," he warns.

Indeed, the Greek crisis is likely to sway the result one way or the other.

Lord Desai thinks it should work against Ms Lagarde.

"I don't know why people think she will be able to sort it out, she hasn't been able to sort it out for these 18 months," he says.

Whoever wins, the race, between a European and a Mexican, has been unlike any other for the past 65 years.

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