The Norwegian Nobel committee on Friday will announce this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, an award that comes with an onslaught of media attention, often a dollop of controversy, and a $1.24 million check.
In a year full of war and raging debates about the use of military force, there is also no shortage of contenders for the peace prize, from critics of Vladimir Putin to Vladimir Putin himself to a group championing a constitutional clause. Yes, a constitutional clause.
The selection process is famously shrouded in secrecy -- the official nomination list is kept under wraps for 50 years. But we do know there were 278 nominations this year -- a record number -- and because some of the nominators talk, we know who a few are.
The Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), a Norwegian peace studies organization that monitors the Nobel committee, publishes a list of confirmed candidates, a tiny fraction of the overall total. But that doesn’t stop speculation -- or in Britain, a flurry of betting -- about the person or organization that will soon be listed alongside laureates like Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.
Here are some of the favorites with betting odds from two popular bookmakers here, Paddy Power and William Hill:
1. Pope Francis
Paddy Power: 9/4
William Hill: 5/2
The bookies' favorite, Pope Francis, could become the first pontiff in the history of the prize. The 77-year-old Argentine was nominated by Argentina's congress, with his sponsor, legislator Oscar Martinez, saying that the pope had been “decisive in maintaining international peace through his clear position regarding the conflict in Syria."
The pope’s rhetoric is new, and he has undoubtedly changed the tone of global Catholicism, winning praise for his humility and focus on the poor.
The Time magazine 2013 “Person of the Year” is also hugely popular with the bookies, taking in more money than any other nominee.
But commentators wonder whether peaceful rhetoric and humble gestures alone are enough, and just 18 months into his papacy, Pope Francis is still pretty new at being the pope -- although as President Obama’s 2009 prize proved, being a newbie on the job isn’t necessarily a negative for the committee.
2. Edward Snowden
Paddy Power: 14/1
William Hill: 8/1
The former NSA contractor’s extensive revelations have sparked a global debate about electronic surveillance and personal liberties. In explaining why they nominated Snowden, Norwegian politicians Bård Vegar Solhjell and Snorre Valen said: “We do not necessarily condone or support all of his disclosures.” But they said the subsequent debate and policy changes triggered by the Snowden leaks have “contributed to a more stable and peaceful world order.”
And who knows, maybe Snowden is on a roll, having recently won Sweden’s Right Livelihood Award, also called the "Alternative Nobel Prize."
But his leaks remain controversial and many American and British officials consider him a traitor. The Norwegian committee may not want to risk alienating the United States, a key ally of Norway, on an issue concerning national security.
3. “Japanese people who conserve Article 9”
Paddy Power: 50/1
William Hill: 50/1
In the pantheon of unusual nominations over the years, this one ranks high. Article 9 refers to a clause in the Japanese constitution, drawn up following World War II, that states that Japan will “forever renounce war” and the “threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” The Japanese government’s “reinterpretation” of this pacifist clause earlier this year sparked a public backlash, with campaigners arguing that the clause is one of the reasons Japan has not waged war in nearly 70 years.
Kristian Berg Harpviken, the director of PRIO and a respected Nobel Prize commentator, recently chose this group as his top pick. He is the first to admit he doesn’t have a solid track record in predicting the winner, but he believes this could be the year for this off-beat choice. It would, he said, be a nod to nonaggression and would “reorientate the prize to the core of Nobel’s original will.”
On the other hand, the last two winners have been organizations -- in 2013, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and in 2012, the European Union -- and the committee may prefer an individual this year.
4. Novaya Gazeta
Paddy Power: 16/1
William Hill: 66/1
Known for its investigative reporting and for taking a critical stance on the Kremlin, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta could become the first media organization to win the prize. And there is a neat little historic tie-in: Mikhail Gorbachev helped to set up the paper with money from his own Nobel Peace Prize.
Harpviken said the conflict in the Ukraine was of enormous concern to the committee, who have also been on the lookout over the past few years for media candidates that could highlight the importance of free speech.
Harpviken said doubts have been raised in Norway as to whether a Nobel committee led by Thorbjørn Johansen could be capable of awarding the prize to Novaya Gazeta. Johansen is also the secretary general of the Council of Europe, which has Russia as a member.
But the committee has previously handed out an award, knowing it may ruffle diplomatic feathers. In 2010, the award was given to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, leading to frosty relations between Norway and China.
5. Denis Mukwege
Paddy Power: 5/1
William Hill: 6/1
The 59-year-old Congolese gynecologist has pioneered treatment for tens of thousands of victims of sexual violence. In addition to medical support, Mukwege’s clinic offers women psychological and socio-economic care.
Ending sexual violence has been a high-profile advocacy issue this year, with the likes of the British government hosting an international summit on the topic this summer.
Mukwege is less controversial than some of the other candidates, and his medical and advocacy work are very much in the spirit of the award. But other issues may overshadow this one.
6. Malala Yousafzai
Paddy Power: 14/1
William Hill: 10/1
Highly touted to win last year, the Pakistani schoolgirl who defied the Taliban is once again considered a favorite. Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for arguing that girls have a right to go to school. She received treatment in Birmingham, U.K., where she now lives with her family and continues to campaign for girls’ rights to an education.
The committee may feel that Yousafzai is too young -- at 17, she would be by far the youngest peace prize winner. But with rising extremism in the Middle East and South Asia, the committee may be looking out for a person such as Yousafzai, whose visibility and personal story mean that she can speak about tolerance and the fight against extremism like few others.