By Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The unprecedented challenge posed by developing countries to the U.S. grip on the World Bank presidency will test industrial nations' commitment to an open selection process, former Colombian finance minister and nominee Jose Antonio Ocampo said on Tuesday.
"We are putting the industrial countries to account ... if they are really committed to an open, merit-based system," Ocampo told an event hosted by the Center for Global Development and the Washington Post.
Ocampo and Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala are up against U.S. nominee Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-born American health expert and president of Dartmouth College.
Under an informal agreement, the World Bank has always been led by an American and the International Monetary Fund by a European since the founding of the institutions after World War Two.
Earlier on Tuesday Ocampo was interviewed by the 25-member World Bank board of member countries. He said each of the board directors asked between two to five questions, which focused mainly on his qualifications for the job.
Kim's turn to be interviewed by the board is on Wednesday. It will be the first time board directors will have the opportunity to question him on his vision for the World Bank.
Kim is likely to succeed Robert Zoellick as the next World Bank president given the United States' large voting bloc and support from allies in Europe, Canada and Japan.
Since his nomination on March 23, Kim has toured the world talking to member countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Immediately after his meeting with the board and bilateral meetings with individual directors, he flies to Moscow.
"In advance of the vote, Dr. Kim's immediate top priority is to meet with as many of the World Bank's shareholder and client countries as he can to discuss how the Bank can best promote growth, combat poverty, and create jobs in developing nations," a U.S. Treasury spokesperson said.
Kim is widely credited for his work in fighting HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and providing healthcare to the poor in impoverished countries.
The board meets on Friday to conduct a straw poll to see if one candidate emerges as a clear favorite. It is expected to announce its choice on April 16, in time for the IMF and World Bank meetings of global finance leaders in Washington the same week.
Emerging and developing countries have pushed aggressively for more say in the World Bank and its sister organization the IMF, arguing that their growing economic clout should be recognized by giving them more power in the two finance institutions.
Ocampo said the next few days will be important in determining whether the selection process was based on the merits of each candidate or on voting power.
Okonjo-Iweala, who was the first nominee to be interviewed by the board on Monday, called on the United States to show leadership by ending the long tradition of an American always heading the World Bank.
(Editing by Eric Beech)