Oslo (AFP) -
Media watchdogs, Belarus opposition leaders and climate campaigners such as Greta Thunberg are among those seen as contenders when the Nobel Peace Prize is announced on Friday.
The highlight of the Nobel season, the prestigious peace prize always elicits a flurry of speculation.
But predicting the winner is a giant guessing game.
There is no public shortlist, and only the number of nominations is known -- 329 this year. The nominees' identities are also kept secret for 50 years.
The image of the prestigious award has been hit hard over the past years as one of its previous laureates, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, became embroiled in a war.
Another, Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, was accused of defending the massacre of members of the Rohingya minority.
This year, experts agree there has been little progress made in peace processes around the world.
As a result, Nobel watchers have suggested that potential laureates could include media watchdogs Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) or the International Fact-Checking Network (to which AFP belongs), as well as anti-corruption champion Transparency International.
The independent media is 'both contributing directly to keeping governments and movements accountable' and fighting the 'increasing challenge (posed by) fake news and misinformation,' said Henrik Urdal, the head of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo.
- Ukraine opposition, climate campaigners -
Also mentioned as a possible winner is the non-violent opposition in Belarus, which has denounced as fraudulent the August 2020 election win that gave strongman President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who became the main opposition candidate after her activist husband was imprisoned, is leading the peaceful opposition from her exile in Lithuania.
The 39-year-old could take the honours on her own, or with two other opposition leaders, Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo.
'It would be a strong statement emphasising the role of women, democracy and non-violence at the same time,' said Swedish professor and conflict researcher Peter Wallensteen.
'A prize to Svetlana would also indirectly be like criticism to Putin,' as Russia is the main backer of the Belarus regime, Nobel historian Asle Sveen noted.
However, Sveen said he would put more money on Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate campaigner.
Honouring work to protect the climate would send a strong signal just weeks ahead of the major COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, and two months after the UN's alarming climate report.
Research on climate models took home the Nobel Physics Prize on Tuesday.
'It is the most important issue at the moment,' Sveen said.
In the same vein, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and its chief Patricia Espinosa have also been cited as possible laureates.
- Live ceremony, or online? -
While it was earlier seen as having a real shot at the award amid the pandemic, the World Health Organization has been hampered by controversy and the slow distribution of jabs in the Covax sharing scheme to poor countries.
It remains, however, a favourite among bookies.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had little impact on the nominations submitted to the Nobel committee in Oslo this year, according to its secretary Olav Njolstad.
'One might have thought so, but we can count them on one hand,' he told AFP.
Yet other names generating buzz this year, albeit to a lesser extent, are the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots -- a favourite of the Norwegian Peace Council -- leading Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Last year, the honour went to the World Food Programme (WFP), the biggest global humanitarian organisation fighting famine.
The lavish banquet in Oslo celebrating the peace prize laureate every December was cancelled last year due to the pandemic and may be again this year.
The Stockholm ceremony honouring the winners in the sciences and literature has already been cancelled for the second straight year, with the laureates due to receive their prizes in their home countries.
The Nobel Institute in Oslo is due to decide in the coming days whether to hold its ceremony online or in person.