Contenders for Time's Person of the Year

The American magazine will announce its Person of the Year today – and the contenders are a mixture of the good, the bad and the holy. Ian Johnston weighs up the odds

A brutal dictator, a latex-clad pop princess and the first Jesuit Pope are all in the running to be named Time's Person of the Year 2013 today. Designed to represent the Zeitgeist of the year – good or bad – previous winners have included Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Russia's Vladimir Putin, "The Protester" in 2011 in a nod to the Arab Spring uprisings, and "You" in 2006 to mark the power of the internet.

The shortlist reflects America's obsession with Barack Obama's bid to reform healthcare, but also issues such as the civil war in Syria, gay and lesbian rights, and covert surveillance of the public by the state.

Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria

A strong contender for all the wrong reasons, Assad could join the likes of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin as winners with an appetite for death and destruction. The United Nations' top human-rights official, Navi Pillay, said this month that investigators had found evidence that massacres, chemical attacks, torture, rape and other abuses were linked to "the highest level of government, including the head of state". Ladbrokes: 8/1; Paddy Power: 10/1 (all odds as of 12pm yesterday)

Miley Cyrus, singer

The former child actress's overtly sexual performance at the MTV Video Music Awards got everyone talking and the word "twerk" added to The New Oxford Dictionary of English. Nancy Gibbs, the managing editor of Time, noted that "power is not just political, it can be cultural or spiritual". She added that Cyrus had become a symbol of an "age of exhibitionism" where everyone has a camera. L: 33/1; PP: 25/1

Pope Francis, leader of the Catholic Church

The first Jesuit Pope, the Argentine pontiff has described unfettered capitalism as a "new tyranny" and launched a survey on attitudes towards contraceptives, gay and lesbian Catholics having sex, and the remarriage of divorcees, while resisting the ordination of female priests and a change on abortion. L: 2/1; PP: 4/5

Barack Obama, President of the US

If he wins, America's first black leader will join President Franklin D Roosevelt as the only people to hold the title three times. It might not be cause for celebration, given a particularly troubled year for the President. A CBS poll last month put his approval rating at just 37 per cent, his lowest figure since coming to power, amid ongoing anger over problems with the flagship Affordable Care Act, widely known as "Obamacare". L: 16/1; PP: 25/1

Edward Snowden, NSA leaker

Some call him a traitor, others view him as a whistleblower who exposed mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency and other bodies. The revelations from the secret files that Snowden took while working for the NSA continue to make headlines. Now seeking asylum in Russia, he is a strong contender regardless of his status as hero or villain. L: 2/1; PP: 5/4

Edith Windsor, gay-rights activist

The Supreme Court decided that it was unconstitutional for the Defence of Marriage Act to apply only to heterosexual couples, meaning gay and lesbian couples could inherit property and receive the tax and welfare benefits in the same way. Windsor sued the US government after her partner died and she couldn't claim a tax exemption on her inheritance. L: 25/1; PP: 80/1

Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran

His campaign slogan was "moderation and wisdom", he's nicknamed the "diplomat sheikh", and is said to have a "good sense of humour". It is hard to imagine a more different image to predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Some insist Rouhani is a hardliner at heart, but last month saw an interim deal to end a decade-long stand-off over Iran's nuclear programme, ending the prospect of military action by Israel, the US and others, at least for now. L: 4/1; PP: 25/1

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon

Bezos, worth an estimated $25bn, according to Forbes magazine, built Amazon from scratch to become the world's biggest online retailer. He was Time's Person of the Year in 1999 and Fortune's Businessperson of the Year in 2012. This year, he bought The Washington Post and announced that Amazon planned to use drones to fly products to customers. L: 12/1; PP: 40/1

Ted Cruz, Texas senator

The Republican was at the heart of efforts by right-wingers to defund the "Obamacare" health reforms that saw the US government partially shut down for 16 days, pushing the country to the brink of defaulting on its debt. He continues to insist that the President is acting outside the law. L: 20/1; PP: 66/1

Kathleen Sebelius, US Secretary of Health and Human Services

Sebelius has previously been named one of the 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes magazine. On the list because of the problems with Obamacare. L: 12/1; PP: 50/1

All pictures are courtesy of Getty Images

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