By Greg Robb
A sense of mystery has settled over the process of selecting a new president of the World Bank with the Obama administration yet to make clear who it will put forward for the post, experts said Wednesday.
The lack of a candidate suggests the U.S. is having some difficulty settling on a candidate to lead the international financial institution.
"It is somewhat surprising that they haven't announced a candidate, it seems they are struggling to get quite the right person," said Uri Dadush, director of international economics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday he had no comment on the selection status. A Treasury Department spokesman also had no comment.
The current World Bank president Robert Zoellick , a former U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush, announced in February he is leaving after his term ends June 30. The Bank's deadline for submitting nominations for Zoellick's replacement is Friday with a decision expected at the Bank's spring meeting on April 21.
The U.S. has held the presidency of the Bank since it was founded in the waning days of World War II under an unwritten rule that an American leads the World Bank and a European gets to occupy the top post at the International Monetary Fund.
In recent years, major developing countries like China, Brazil and India have tried to challenge this tradition, but so far without success.
"It is always going to happen next time," said Desmond Lachman, a former IMF official and now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
The U.S. is justifying continued American leadership on the grounds that World Bank has to raise money from Congress, which won't trust a foreigner to run the institution, Lachman said.
The unwritten rule still seems to be in place this year as other major countries have not put forward any candidates, experts said.
"There seems to be acceptance that an American is going to head the bank," said John Williamson, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
He said other leaders do not want to "tangle" with the U.S. about the World Bank post given that President Barack Obama faces a reelection battle in November.
Obama was expected to announce he had selected his former adviser and former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers to the post, but the delay has led to speculation that Summers has run into resistance from other countries, Williamson said.
Summers did serve as chief economist of the World Bank.
Other candidates said to be on the White House radar are Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiSo (PEP); and Laura Tyson, a former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton.
Jeffrey Sachs, a professor of economics at Columbia University, has launched an independent candidacy for the post and will be officially nominated by East Timor.
Lachman said that Sachs would be viewed as a divisive figure by Congressional Republicans because of his expansive vision for the Bank's role in development. He does not have the support from the White House.
Reuters reported that developing nations will name two candidates to lead the World Bank: Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Columbian Finance Minister Jose Antonia Ocampo.
The U.S. and advanced economies have the votes to win a contested election although the World Bank presidency has always been decided by consensus, said Dadush of the Carnegie Endowment.
"When the U.S. comes up with a candidate, that candidate will have a very good chance," he said.
-Greg Robb; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com