President U Thein Sein has been tipped as a possible candidate for this week’s Nobel Peace Prize, raising the prospect of Myanmar having two winners after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi received the prestigious award in 1991.
A total of 231 nominees are in the running and, although the prize committee never discloses the nominees’ names, Bill Clinton, Helmut Kohl, the EU and WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning are known to be on the list. The prize will be announced at 4:30pm Myanmar time on October 12.
The head of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, Kristian Berg Harpviken, follows the work of the Peace Prize committee closely and each year publishes his own shortlist of possible winners.
He listed President U Thein Sein among the five frontrunners for “spearheading a gradually evolving peace process in the country”.
Since coming to office in March 2011, U Thein Sein’s government has reached ceasefire agreements with 10 of 11 non-state armed groups. However, analysts agree the peace process remains fragile and much work remains to be done to transform the ceasefires into lasting peace after decades of civil war. In Kachin State, fighting continues and has displaced up to 90,000 people and resulted in an unknown number of deaths.
While Mr Harpviken acknowledged that awarding the prize to U Thein Sein “would stir controversy”, he said “the [Nobel] committee has often insisted that the prize is not to be for saints only, and has in recent years been particularly eager that it makes a difference in processes unfolding, even if that may carry high risk.”
But he said the decision would also be “complicated by the fact that the main opposition leader, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, has already received the prize”.
Among Mr Harpviken’s other tips for the prize are Gene Sharp, an American political theorist and expert on non-violent revolution, Russian rights group Memorial and its founder Svetlana Gannushkina, and independent Russian media outlet Echo of Moscow and its chief editor Aleksei Venediktov.
A Nigerian duo campaigning against the misuse of religion, Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Mohamed Sa’ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto, are also on it, along with Afghan human rights activist, ex-minister and burka opponent Sima Samar.
But even if U Thein Sein misses out, there could still be a Myanmar winner: Mr Harpviken said exile broadcaster Democratic Voice of Burma and the monks who organised the 2007 protests also have an outside chance.
In May, Dr Nicholas Farrelly, a research fellow at the Australian National University and co-founder of the New Mandala website, told The Myanmar Times there is probably a “Nobel Peace Prize waiting for whoever manages to finally end Burma’s tragic history of civil war”.
He later clarified: “For the moment, at least, I don’t actually think President Thein Sein is in the running for a Nobel Prize. But I can foresee circumstances where that changes quite quickly ... I could imagine a joint Nobel Peace Prize for any political leaders who can bring lasting peace to Burma. And that might include U Thein Sein.”