Angela Merkel and Pope Francis among front-runners, but winner proving hard to call amid political intrigue
The winner of this year’s Nobel peace prize is to be named on Friday morning, putting an end to a period of speculation and volatile betting. Past experience, however, suggests that bookies’ odds are an unreliable guide: the Oslo-based prize committee has shown itself to be leak-proof, inscrutable and quite capable of springing surprises, such as the award to Barack Obama only a few months into his tenure, and to the European Union in 2012.
Adding to the intrigue, the committee was embroiled in an unprecedented internal coup in March, when its Labour party chairman of five years was ousted by rightwingers and replaced by a former Conservative party leader and business executive, Kaci Kullmann Five. The committee’s decision on Friday will be scrutinised, in Norway at least, for signs of the political pendulum swinging.
Here are some of the contenders for this year’s prize:
The Argentinian pontiff surged into the running after it emerged the Vatican had played a key role in brokering the re-establishment of relations between the US and Cuba last December. His successful visit to both countries last month and his enthusiastic embracing of the causes of social justice and stopping climate change have not hindered his chances, either.
His odds are improved by general popularity, a friendly demeanour and apparent flexibility on the interpretation of some Catholic dogma, such as the ban on the ordination of married priests. The image was tarnished somewhat by the news that he had met a Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis, who had become a figurehead for American religious hardliners because of her refusal to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples.
On the other hand, it transpired he had also given an audience to a former pupil and his same-sex partner on the same US visit. His adherence to the Vatican’s line on the role of women would make him a hard sell in Norway.
The German chancellor has recently emerged as one of the bookies’ favourites after opening her country’s doors to refugees, a decision that could provide haven for more than 800,000 people fleeing the Syrian conflict and other wars. It was a dramatic gesture that served to highlight the miserly response of most other European leaders and triggered extraordinary scenes at railway and bus stations as Germans turned out to welcome the new arrivals.
While the emotional power of such scenes helped make Merkel a frontrunner, it cannot hurt, either, that she hails from the same centre-right political camp as the Nobel chairwoman. On the negative side, Merkel’s open-door policy has created strains and tensions among the state governments hosting the refugees.
Train services from Austria have been suspended and border controls introduced in some places to mitigate the influx of people, forcing Merkel on to the defensive. Greece, which has found itself on the wrong end of her penchant for fiscal austerity, would not take kindly to her winning, nor presumably would be the many migrants from the Balkans now facing deportation and reduced benefits.
John Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif
Until the refugee crisis in Europe reached its climax over the summer, the US secretary of state and the Iranian foreign minister looked to be obvious favourites for the prize. Over two years of intensive diplomacy the two men crafted a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme that many had thought impossible.
In the course of countless late nights in a succession of European cities, during which Kerry and Zarif, representatives of two hostile nations, came to spend more time with each other than with any other foreign official, they overcame the enormous technical complexity of the issue and the entrenched opposition from hardliners at home.
The deal has since been endorsed by the UN security council and survived critical scrutiny in the US and Iranian legislatures. It was a victory for tenacious diplomacy, and its supporters argue, with some justification, it averted another war in the Middle East as well as being a significant victory against nuclear proliferation. On the other hand, the agreement has yet to begin being implemented and is the subject of ongoing, bitter attack from US Republicans and the Israeli government.
Much will depend on whether the new majority on the Nobel committee minds offending these constituencies by awarding the Obama administration a second prize.
This Eritrean priest set up a hotline for refugees from his country and beyond who found themselves in peril on the dangerous journey to Europe. He set up a centre to field calls from north Africa and from leaky, drifting boats on the Mediterranean.
He has meanwhile become an advocate for refugees in the face of poor conditions and hostility across much of Europe. If the Nobel committee was looking for an everyman hero, Zerai could fit the bill. On Tuesday, Paddy Power had him as their joint favourite, along with the the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Odds on both: 6/1.
The Congolese gynaecologist has been on the Nobel committee’s radar for several years for his determined and often lonely work with rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was awarded the European parliament’s Sakharov prize for human rights work in 2014. Could his next award be the Nobel?
The 33-year-old youth activist is a survivor of the chronic conflict and insecurity of northern Uganda, having seen his elder brother abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group. He set up the African Youth Initiative Network to work with other child victims and help them recover from their trauma.
When News Breaks Out, We Break In. (The 2014 Bloggies Finalist)