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Jim Yong Kim

Jim Yong Kim is heading for another five-year term as president of the World Bank after no other candidates emerged during a compressed nomination process pushed by the US.

But critics and observers warn that both Mr Kim and the World Bank’s legitimacy risks being further damaged by the White House’s decision to hurry through the Korean-born American’s reappointment before President Barack Obama leaves office early next year. They also argue that the lack of other candidates is a symptom of how many big emerging economies such as China are turning away from the Washington-based lender to focus on their own new institutions.

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“As a US citizen I am really chagrined by this process. The US, I think, is putting the long-term relevance, effectiveness and legitimacy of the World Bank at risk, which is not a good thing,” said Nancy Birdsall, a former senior bank official who leads the Center for Global Development, a think-tank.

A medical doctor and anthropologist by training who was plucked from the head of the prestigious Dartmouth College by President Obama in 2012, Mr Kim has drawn criticism for pushing through a vast restructuring of the bank that has caused years of turmoil and questions about whether it has delivered a promised $400m in cost savings. 

In a letter last month the World Bank’s influential staff association complained of a “crisis of leadership” and asked the bank’s board to conduct a global search for a replacement for Mr Kim, a call joined by an influential group of former bank officials who have been lobbying for shareholders to find a replacement.

“He has completely failed in the past four years to establish any legitimacy as the leader of the World Bank,” said Lant Pritchett, a Harvard professor and former senior bank official who was part of a group that this week demanded the bank’s board extend the reappointment process in response to criticism of Mr Kim. 

The US and other major shareholders — arguing for urgency and for a move before November’s US presidential election — have ignored such calls and Mr Kim was the only nominee put forward for the presidency by the end of a three-week nomination period that closed on Wednesday.

Mr Kim’s rapid reappointment, which is expected to be confirmed formally by the board before next month’s annual meetings of the bank and the International Monetary Fund, stands in contrast to the competitive process that came before his original appointment in 2012, when Mr Kim faced off against former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. 

It also, critics charge, marks a step away from the promise to shift to a more open process that Washington had made at the time of Mr Kim’s original appointment. Traditionally, an American has led the bank and a European sat at the head of its sister organisation, the IMF.

Both organisations have in recent years faced pressures to move away from that tradition and reform as a result of the rise of China, India and other emerging powers. But partly in frustration at the slow progress of such reforms, China has pushed for the creation of new rival institutions such as the New Development Bank, or BRICS bank, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which earlier this year announced its first projects.

“The fact that the big emerging markets . . . are relatively indifferent [to the World Bank presidency], I don’t think that should not be a surprise,” Ms Birdsall said. “It’s just easier for them to move on and create their new institutions.” 

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