Pakistani schoolgirl shot for advocating right to education and Indian child-rights campaigner share award in Oslo.
New York, United States – From German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Pope Francis and a lesser-known Congolese gynaecologist, the names being tipped to win the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday are as diverse as ever.
Ladbrokes, a bookmaker, lists Merkel as its frontrunner for what many describe as her courageous leadership in an open-door policy for refugees from Syria and beyond, and in her stewardship of the war in Ukraine.
“The refugee crisis is the big issue, and she turned the debate in Europe around,” said Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo and a peace prize pundit these past seven years.
But she is also “controversial”, he told Al Jazeera. Greeks criticise her inflexible posture during the Eurozone crisis, and many Germans fear she has opened the door to an overwhelming influx of some 1.5 million asylum-seekers this year.
Looking further afield
The five-member selection committee for the prize is “wary of appearing interested in only European candidates” and will look further afield, added Alf Ole Ask, a journalist at Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Timoleon “Timochenko” Jimenez, leader of the country’s FARC guerrilla group, would be a better choice, Ask told Al Jazeera, because Latin Americans are often overlooked.
Within six months, the two men are expected to ink a deal to end a half-century war that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and uprooted six million people.
“It’s an extremely promising peace process, but some tricky issues remain,” Harpviken said.
Honouring the Colombians would echo past winners who took political risks in pursuit of peace, such as Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, the 1994 laureates who led Palestinians and Israelis towards the Oslo Accords.
With high opinion poll ratings, Pope Francis is a much-touted nominee. His work on the US-Cuba rapprochement and advocacy on climate change burnish his credentials, but the committee may be loath to elevate one religious leader over others.
Another favourite is Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, and other Russian journalists who dare speak out against the Kremlin, which is clamping down on media outlets and dissident views, according to the US pressure group Freedom House.
Others point to the Chinese human rights lawyer Li Heping, who has been missing since a government crackdown on activists in July, and colleagues Cai Ying and Ma Lianshun who are searching for him.
Harpviken said it is high time to “mark the need for peaceful protest against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s regime”. Others warn against insulting authoritarian leaders and refer back to the imprisoned 2010 peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.
The Chinese dissenter is still serving an 11-year jail term for subversion.
“The relationship between Norway and China has been frozen since then,” said Ask. “The award was the right thing to do, but it cost Norway a lot of money.”
Other nominees include US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who helped negotiate limits on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
The deal, agreed in July, was a “product of dogged diplomacy in the face of domestic hard-liners in both countries”, Stewart Patrick, a former research fellow at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, told Al Jazeera.
Their fellow negotiator, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, could also be included. While the deal could bring some calm to the Middle East, some suggest the committee should wait for the dust to settle before giving out gongs.
“The aftermath of the deal is still in the making” and has stoked tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, said Harpviken.
According to Ask, the 2009 peace prize for US President Barack Obama was enough. “Can we give another one to his administration?” he said.
Jonathan Hutson, a human rights advocate who worked on the campaign against landmines that won a peace prize in 1997, said giving prestigious awards to established statesmen is a wasted opportunity.
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“Merkel is a deserving nominee, but she already has a spotlight,” Hutson told Al Jazeera. “It’s more useful to bring rights activists who struggle to get their voices heard from the margins to the centre of the stage.”
Hutson favours the Russian journalists, Chinese lawyers, and Denis Mukwege, a gynaecologist from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who has been nominated, alongside others, for helping rape victims and tackling widespread sex crimes.
The committee received 273 nominations for this year’s peace prize – 205 people and 68 organisations.
Chairwoman Kaci Kullmann Five will announce the winner in Oslo on Friday. The lead-up to the announcement is rife with speculation, but predictions are mostly wrong, said Harpviken.
“Getting it right is not easy,” he said.
Follow James Reinl on Twitter: @jamesreinl