Israel's Fischer in race for top IMF job

JERUSALEM, June 12, 2011 (AFP) - Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer announced on Saturday he was in the race to become the next head of the International Monetary Fund.

Fischer, 67, is a widely respected economist credited with successfully guiding Israel's economy through the global crisis.

He is nevertheless something of a dark-horse candidate, as France's Christine Lagarde and Mexico's Agustin Carstens are generally considered the leading contenders.

Israel's Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said he would be backing Fischer's candidacy.

"A unique, unplanned and possibly and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has arisen to run for the head of the International Monetary Fund, which after consideration, I decided I wanted to pursue," Fischer said in a statement.

"I believe I can contribute to the IMF and to the global economy in this period after the crisis," he said a day after the deadline for nominations closed.

The job became vacant unexpectedly after Frenchman Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned on May 18 to fight sexual assault charges in New York.

The 24-member executive board, representing all the IMF's members, has targeted the end of June to reach a consensus on one of the candidates, which is how it has decided the issue in the past.

Commentators said Fischer was likely hoping he could be a compromise candidate, should the delegates become deadlocked over the other two.

In his statement Fischer acknowledged his bid faced "a complex process and despite the possible obstacles."

One possible stumbling block could be his age. Fischer will be 68 in October and IMF regulations call for a candidate under 65.

His ties to Israel could also prove unpopular in the Arab world.

Nevertheless Steinitz said he would push for Fischer to get the IMF job.

"The job of IMF chief fits Fischer like a glove, both because of his education and the tremendous experience he has built up at the IMF, the World Bank and in the six years in which he has become an asset to Israel's economy as central bank governor," the finance minister said in a statement.

"Our intention is to support this bid and work to assist in its success."

Fischer is a popular figure in Israel, credited with having helped the country's economy weather the recent global crisis in good shape.

"Please, don't go," read a recent headline in Israeli economic daily The Marker.

One columnist in the Financial Times said he was the best candidate for the IMF job, and Euromoney magazine last year put him top of their list of central bank governors.

Global Finance magazine gave Fischer an "A" rating in 2009 and 2010 in a review of the performances of central bank governors.

An American economist, he took Israeli citizenship before accepting the post of Bank of Israel governor. He began his second five-year term in March.

He has held senior positions at the World Bank and was the number two at the IMF and at financial giant Citigroup.

But while he is eminently qualified for the IMF post, his candidacy would be a long shot, as the job traditionally goes to a European, which of course makes Lagarde the favourite.

The resignation of Strauss-Kahn however has sparked calls for someone from the emerging economies to be appointed, which would favour the bid of Carstens, Mexico's central bank chief.

Two other candidates, Kazakhstan's Grigory Marchenko and Trevor Manuel of South Africa, pulled out ahead of Friday's nomination deadline -- a move that underscored the widespread belief that Europe already had a done deal.

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