OSLO (Reuters) - Lobbying for the Nobel Peace Prize may backfire, a key Nobel official said on Tuesday.
Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, said it was hard enough to decide a winner of the $1.5 million prize without letter-writing campaigns, phone calls, visits and other lobbying efforts.
The winner of the 2007 prize will be announced in Oslo on Friday from a near-record field of 181 nominees.
“Every year there will be two or three campaigns — supporters of candidates — who flood us with letters of support,” Lundestad, secretary to the secretive five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee that awards the prize, told Reuters.
“There have been two or three of these this year as well,” Lundestad said at the Nobel Institute.
“Most such campaigns don’t pay off, and they may be counterproductive,” said Lundestad, one of six people who know the identity of this year’s laureate but gave nothing away.
He declined to identify lobbying efforts but said he hoped a record of 750,000 letters on behalf of a candidate in the 1990s “will stand forever.” That person never won.
Lundestad recommended that anyone sending in a nomination should explain why the candidate should win in a letter of no more than two pages, with supporting material if needed.
“I’m sure there are examples of campaigns that have succeeded in our 106-year history,” he said and mentioned a campaign for the German pacifist poet Carl von Ossietsky whose 1935 prize was a slap to Hitler.
Lundestad said that lobbying should not have any impact on the selection of the laureate because the nominees themselves might not be to blame, but said such campaigns triggered a negative psychological response nonetheless.
“They send me information every day, they call me on the phone — chances are you will not take a particular liking to them,” Lundestad said.
He acknowledged that sometimes visiting Norway had boosted a candidate’s profile with the committee, but said that most of the laureates had never visited the country.
The committee does not reveal the nominees, though some people who make nominations publish their choices. “Virtually all are serious nominations,” he said of the 2007 list.
Announced candidates this year include former U.S. Vice President Al Gore for his work to raise awareness of climate change, and Canadian Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier who has told how warming of the planet is affecting Arctic peoples.
Lundestad would not be drawn on the likelihood of any of the known candidates carrying off the accolade.
“This list is mystifying,” he said of a list of almost 30 possible winners by online bookmakers Paddypower.com.
The list on Tuesday put Gore as the favourite ahead of Poland’s Irena Sendler, who saved more than 2,500 Jewish children from the Holocaust in World War Two, and Finland’s former President Martti Ahtisaari in third place.
Lundestad said that the committee did not feel urgency about giving a prize to a Chinese dissident even though he said in a speech in 2001 that the committee should speak out about a lack of democracy in China “sooner rather than later”.
“In a way we have done that prize...in 1989 to the Dalai Lama...The old men in Beijing did become furious,” he said. “It’s always a question of finding a good candidate. You cannot simply take a principle and then throw out a prize.”