OSLO: Pakistani schoolgirl-turned-icon of Taliban resistance Malala Yousafzai, ex-Eastern bloc activists and former US president Bill Clinton are in the running for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, as the Nobel Institute announced a record 259 nominations on Monday.
This year's list of candidates is made up of 209 individuals and 50 organisations, the Nobel Institute said, without disclosing any of the names in line with its rules. The list of nominees is kept secret for 50 years.
But thousands of people are eligible to nominate candidates, including former laureates, members of parliament and government around the world, some university professors and members of certain international organisations, and they can reveal the names they have put forward.
Fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who was seriously wounded when she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman at point blank range on October 9 for promoting girls' education in Pakistan, is known to be on the list and is seen by some experts as a favourite.
“She is a candidate who embodies several causes: the rights of girls and women, education, youth, and the fight against extremism,” said prize observer Kristian Berg Harpviken, the head of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo.
But her young age could work against her, others suggested.
“It would be too much of a burden for her,” said Atle Sveen, a historian who specialises in the Nobel Peace Prize.
“She's much too young even though the reasons to honour her are easy to understand,” he said.
“Linna Ben Mhenni (a Tunisian blogger who was mentioned as a possible winner in 2011 when she was 27) almost cracked from nerves when she was nominated. And she (Malala) could become an even bigger target for fanatics,” he said.
The 2013 laureate will be announced in early October and awarded, as tradition dictates, on December 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of the Nobel Prizes' founder, philanthropist Alfred Nobel.
The previous record of 241 candidates dated from 2011. “The trend is upward, not every year but almost,” the head of the Institute, Geir Lundestad, said.
“This reflects a growing interest in the prize. The nominations come from the entire world,” he said.
Some of the prize committee's recent choices have been controversial, which may have increased the attention it has received.
Last year the prestigious honour went to the European Union, a controversial choice as the bloc struggles through its worst crisis since its creation.
And in 2009, US President Barack Obama received the nod just months after he took office and as the United States was fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This year, the Nobel committee could raise the ire of Moscow by honouring activists fighting for rights and liberties in Russia, which suffered the worst crackdown since the fall of the Soviet Union according to Human Rights Watch, or Belarus, often described as Europe's last dictatorship.
“There are a lot of reasons to turn our attention towards Eastern Europe, and particularly Russia,” said Harpviken.
“The political developments are very, very worrying and that is something that can't have escaped the committee members.”
Russian women activists such as Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Svetlana Gannushkina and Lilia Shibanova could then be serious candidates, as well as the rights group Memorial and jailed Belarusian rights activist Ales Belyatski.
Harpviken also mentioned progress being made in the fields of peace or fundamental human rights in countries like Colombia, Myanmar and the Philippines, but suggested it might be hard to single out one laureate in particular.
Names known to be on the list include Colombian President Jose Manuel Santos and Myanmar's reformist President Thein Sein.
Other candidates are, in no particular order, former US president Bill Clinton, Coptic Christian Maggie Gobran, dubbed Egypt's “Mother Teresa” for her work to help the poor in Cairo's slums and Denis Mukwege, a pioneering doctor who founded a clinic for rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
And according to Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, yet other names include US soldier and Wikileaks suspect Bradley Manning, Kurdish activist Leyla Zana and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) that provides vaccines for poor children.