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Nobel Peace Prize: five favored front-runners

The Norwegian Nobel Committee will announce the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize this Friday. Among the front-runners are a pope, a gynecologist, and a constitutional clause.

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Pope Francis laughs as he arrives for an afternoon session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. The pope is one of 278 contenders for the Nobel Peace Prize, which will be announced Friday.

Gregorio Borgia/AP

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Will a pope win the Nobel Peace Prize for the first time ever?

Will Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education – and thought by many to be a shoo-in for the award last year – become the youngest Nobel laureate?

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Or, in a year when the scourge of sexual violence in all its forms has moved to the global center stage, might the winner be a Congolese gynecologist who has treated female victims of sexual violence for a quarter century?

The Norwegian Nobel Committee will announce its choice for the coveted peace prize Friday, and as every year, speculation is torrid concerning who will take home the medal – and the $1.24 million award that goes with it.

This year, the list of nominees ranges from the conventional – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – to the controversial – former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden – and includes a newspaper and a constitutional clause.

After a year of bewildering violence, shocking barbarity, and a return to war in a Europe that thought it had stamped out armed conflict across its borders, it may be heartening to some that the Nobel Committee received more nominations than ever – 278 – as worthy candidates for a prize that carries in Latin the inscription, “For the peace and brotherhood of men.”

The Nobel Committee releases only the number of nominations it receives, and no hint of who figures on the long list. But every year, many nominations are known (mainly because nominators campaign for their choice by trumpeting the name they submitted), and a shortlist of odds-on favorites develops.

Among this year’s favorites:

Pope Francis: The Argentine pontiff has achieved global popularity in short order as a result of the humble tone he’s set and the challenge to rampant materialism he’s articulated. But advocates say it would be his strong stand for peace in conflicts raging around the globe, from Syria to Ukraine, that would win him the prize.

In particular, the pope pulled no punches when he visited the Middle East, including Israel, during the summer fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. He made a point of praying at the wall the Israeli government has built to separate Jerusalem from Bethlehem.   

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Malala Yousafzai: The Pakistani schoolgirl turned international girls’ education advocate has come a long way since she was shot in the head when a Taliban fighter boarded her school bus in 2012 and asked for her by name.

Malala now lives in England and travels the globe to press for a girl’s right to an education. But some Nobel Prize analysts believe the 17-year-old may still be too young to win the Nobel Committee’s nod.  

Denis Mukwege: In a year when the British government saw fit to host an international conference on the problem of sexual violence, the Nobel Committee could add considerable heft to the global campaign by choosing this Congolese gynecologist who has developed groundbreaking approaches to countering sexual violence against women.

Awarding Dr. Mukwege would have the added benefit of shining an international light on the Congo war, which has raged for more than a decade and become the deadliest conflict in modern Africa – but which has garnered little attention. However, doubters of a Mukwege selection say that, as innovative as the Congolese doctor has been in moving beyond physical care to counseling and economic assistance to victims of sexual violence, even the Nobel Committee may bypass the Congo to highlight some other challenge to world peace.

Novaya Gazeta: Word has leaked out that the conflict in Ukraine has surged to the top of the Nobel Committee’s concerns, so awarding the peace prize to a Russian newspaper that has been critical of the Russian government’s actions toward Ukraine could be a flashy way to underscore that focus, some prize analysts say.

Should the Russian newspaper – considered to be among the last independent voices in Vladimir Putin’s Russia – win the Nobel, it would be the first time the prize went to a news medium. An extra incentive for the committee to award Novaya Gazeta may come from the fact that the seed money to create the Moscow daily was provided by Mikhail Gorbachev, who used part of his 1990 Nobel Prize money to launch the paper and buy its first computers.

Japanese people for preservation of Article 9: A prestigious peace prize to a constitutional clause? That may sound impersonal to some, and it raises logistical questions about who would receive the prize money. Nobel-watchers say the committee might be drawn to the grass-roots organization seeking to preserve Japan’s postwar constitutional commitment to “forever renounce war” and to renounce the “threat or use of force” to address international disputes.

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, says he merely seeks a “reinterpretation” of Article 9 to allow Japan to defend itself and come to the aid of allies like a normal state. But Japanese pacifists say the clause is a key reason that Japan has not fought a war in 70 years – and some Nobel experts say such a groundswell of support for a country’s grounding in peace may be just the kind of peace advocacy the committee will want to recognize.