China media calls for democracy at World Bank

China's state-run Xinhua news agency called Wednesday for democratic and transparent elections for the next World Bank president, saying the US strangle-hold over the job was outdated.

The World Bank announced last week it would select a new president to succeed Robert Zoellick by April 20, the start of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund's spring meetings in Washington.

Zoellick said he would step down at the end of his five-year term on June 30, setting up a race for the top post at the development bank.

"If the new president of the World Bank is indeed selected through a fair and democratic election, it will free the agency from a seven-decade-old tradition that saw the World Bank's president as a US citizen," Xinhua said in an unsigned commentary.

"Only a real 'transparent, open and fair' selection for the World Bank president will result in the installation of a visionary leader with merit, a leader who can push forward reforms and reduce poverty without ideological bias.

"The mentality that the World Bank's president must be of US origin has lost its legitimacy because of changes in global political and economic order, as well as the changing roles of the organization itself."

It was unclear if the commentary fully reflected the wishes of China's communist government, which does not allow open democratic elections for its government officials.

Last week, the government said it hoped the next head of the World Bank would be selected on "merit."

"China hopes that the World Bank will select the next president based on the principles of openness, competition and merit," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters.

Liu would not be drawn on whether China would prefer a non-American to lead the global lender, unlike Brazil, which has already urged the World Bank to give proper consideration to developing country candidates.

According to the bank, nominations will be accepted until March 23 and candidates must be members of the Bank's 187 member countries.

Thanks to an unwritten pact between European powers and the United States dating to 1945, all 11 Bank presidents have been Americans and all IMF managing directors have come from Europe.

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