Nominations opened for a new head of IMF with few names in the air. Christine Lagarde of France is the clear frontrunner. But if she were to face a rival from outside the West whom might it be? One name tripping off agile tongues is Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the finance minister of Singapore who is now deputy prime minister too. He has a number of things going for him. He knows a bit of economics, having picked up a bachelor's in the subject at the LSE, a master's at Cambridge and an MPA at Harvard's Kennedy School. He served many years at the Monetary Authority of Singapore and was just appointed chair of the committeeof ministers (the IMFC) that oversees the IMF. You can see his debut press briefing in thiswebcast, or read the transcript here. He welcomes the IMF's new pragmatism about capital controls (sorry, "macroprudential measures") which he describes as "a major break in the fund's thinking", and he urges it to pay further attention to "spillovers", ie risks that spill over from one country to another, and from the financial system to the macroeconomy (and vice versa).
He does not have Christine Lagarde's star power, but I'm told that he is smart, articulate and forceful, and that people in Washington, DC speak of him highly.
Given the way these things work, it may also help that he doesn't come from any of the big Asian powers, and yet they'll all find him a sympathetic candidate. He is of Tamil ancestry, his wife's ancestry is partly Japanese, and his kids can speak Chinese.
According to a 2004 profile in the New Paper, a Singapore tabloid, he keeps four canes in a cupboard--one for each of his kids, although he says he's never had to use them. I can think of no better metaphor for Singapore.
Of course, what those of us interested in his credentials to run the IMF really want to know is something else: what does he do when the kids run out of pocket money?