France's Lagarde named new IMF chief

International lender's 24-member executive board says the French finance minister was elected by consensus.

    Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, has been named as the first-ever female chief of the International Monetary Fund, the international lender has announced.

    Lagarde was elected at a meeting of the IMF's 24-member executive board on Tuesday.

    "The executive board of the International Monetary Fund today selected Christine Lagarde to serve as IMF managing director and madame chairman of the executive board for a five-year term starting on July 5, 2011," the IMF said in a statement.

    The IMF said she was elected by consensus, rather than a vote.

    The office of President Nicolas Sarkozy termed the appointment a "victory for France".

    "The results are in: I am honored & delighted that the board has entrusted me with the position of MD of the IMF!" Lagarde said via Twitter minutes after the announcement.

    Afterwards she said in a statement: "I will make it my overriding goal that our institution continues to serve its entire membership with the same focus and the same spirit.

    "As I have had the opportunity to say to the IMF board during the selection process, the IMF must be relevant, responsive, effective, and legitimate, to achieve stronger and sustainable growth, macroeconomic stability, and a better future for all."

    Regarding the debt crisis in Greece, which prompted violent protests on Tuesday, Lagarde told a French television channel that her message to the country was that to "call to the Greek opposition for it to join in national unity with the party which is currently in power".

    Agustin Carstens, the governor of Mexico's central bank and Lagarde's opponent in the race for the post, said that she had his full support, and that he was sure that she would be "a very capable leader of the institution".

    "I welcome the selection of Christine Lagarde as managing director for the IMF, and extend her my best wishes and full support," Carstens said in a statement on Tuesday.

    Heavyweights' support

    Earlier in on Tuesday, the US and Russia threw their weight behind Lagarde's candidacy for the managing director's post.

    Their support all but assured her of being chosen when the organisation's board met to discuss the issue.

    Timothy Geithner, the US treasury secretary, said in a statement on Tuesday that the French finance minister's "exceptional talent and broad experience" will help her to lead the bank at a "critical time for the global economy".

    He said that he was encouraged by the broad support Lagarde had received from the fund's members.

    Separately on Tuesday, Alexei Kudrin, the Russian finance minister, said that his country would support Lagarde in the vote.

    "We will vote for her candidacy," he said, adding that she would be able to "secure reform of the IMF in the interests of developing markets".

    Carstens had stood against Lagarde, but he lacked broad support across European countries, and the Frenchwoman was expected to easily secure the appointment.

    Between them, the US, Russia, Europe and China hold over 50 per cent of the seats on the board, which represents the 187 members of the IMF. Board officials had earlier said, however, that they would prefer to have the appointment made by consensus, rather than a vote.

    Emerging economies' concerns

    Lagarde, 55, is be the first woman to head the lending organisation, succeeding Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned last month after being charged with sexually assaulting a housekeeper in a New York City hotel.

    Although she is not an economist, she has gained respect as the French finance head during its leadership of the G-20 group of countries, as well as during European debt talks.

    Lagarde toured the world to convince emerging economic powers, such as China and India, that she would take tough stances on European bailouts and would not be biased against their interests.

    "I am not here to represent the interest of any given region of the world, but rather the entire membership," she told the IMF board last week.

    Nevertheless, there had been grumblings from non-European members about the continent's 65-year lock on the managing director's job. Carsten was not able to gain broad support despite his impeccable credentials: a PhD in economics from Chicago University and stints as both finance minister and governor of the central bank of Mexico.

    Under an informal arrangement in place since World War II, the IMF is always headed by a European citizen, while its sister organisation, the World Bank, is headed by an American. The US also names the IMF's top deputy.

    Developing countries have long protests against the set-up, pushing for the positions to be opened up to candidates outside of the US and Europe.

    Sarkozy, the French president, is expected to name Lagarde's replacement as French finance minister as early as Wednesday.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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