OSLO: The race for the Nobel peace prize, to be announced Friday, has rarely been as open or unpredictable, experts say, with the pope and Edward Snowden tipped as possible winners.
Snowden, the former intelligence analyst who revealed the extend of US global eavesdropping, was one of the joint winners of the "alternative Nobel peace prize" last month. A hero to some and a traitor to others, he would be a highly controversial choice for the 878,000-euro (USD 1.11-million) award.
The Pakistani girls' education campaigner Malala Yousafzai - who was also a favourite last year - is also said to be in the running along with Pope Francis and a Japanese pacifist group.
Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) analyst, was proposed by two Norwegian members of parliament. Last month he shared the "alternative" USD 210,000 Norwegian Right Livelihood Award with The Guardian newspaper and human rights and environmental activists.
But from his exile in Russia, the US fugitive said during a recent press conference that "it is somewhat unlikely that the Nobel committee would back..." him winning the real Nobel.
However, other Russian-based individuals or groups could be a popular choice for the Nobel Committee.
For the Nobel committee president Thorbjoern Jagland, "sanctioning Moscow would... be a way to prove that he acts independently, since (Jagland) is (also) the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, which counts Russia as a member," Jacob told AFP.
Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), a leading peace prize analyst and one of the few to publish a shortlist, revised his prediction in the last week, putting the peace group Japanese People Who Conserve Article 9 - which wants to maintain the Asian country's anti-war constitution - in first place ahead of Malala.
Nobeliana.com, a website run by leading Norwegian Nobel historians ranked Malala - who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 - as their top candidate ahead of Snowden, for her fight for girls' right to an education around the world.
But the historians noted that, despite the issue of girls' rights being topical - with the Boko Haram mass kidnapping in Nigeria in April and the ongoing mistreatment of women by the fundamentalist Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq - there were several reasons to doubt that the committee would nominate her.
"She is still very young (17 years), and she has said that she does not deserve the Peace Prize yet. As a Nobel laureate she will be an even greater target for extremist groups," they wrote.