Hundreds of public figures and ordinary citizens have appealed to Serbian ombudsman Sasa Jankovic to stand as a non-party candidate in the spring 2017 presidential elections, Belgrade based NGO Civic Position announced on November 25.
A few months before the start of the election campaign the names of the candidates are still the “million dollar question” in Serbia. Even the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has not yet named its candidate, and there is speculation that Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic could stand instead of current President Tomislav Nikolic.
The far-right Serbian Radical Party (SRS) already has its candidate - its president Vojislav Seselj. Reportedly, former minister of foreign affairs and former president of the UN General Assembly Vuk Jeremic could become a candidate but is still not clear which party would nominate him.
According to Civic Position, Jankovic should join the race, which will start at the same time as his ombudsman’s mandate expires.
“We believe that Jankovic has the integrity and professional experience which is needed in order to represent Serbia in a decent manner. Prudence, courage that he has showed in difficult moments, commitments to defend the rule of law and to protect human rights as well as his professional results in building one of the most important institutions, are a guarantee that in him Serbia would get the president the country deserves,” reads the appeal, signed by 866 people.
The signatories also called on all pro-democracy oriented citizens, organisations and political parties to support their initiative and thereby help Serbia to get a “real leader”.
Meanwhile, in an interview given to Deutsche Welle, Jankovic again managed to avoid answering whether he will run for the presidency.
“I have answered that question so many times so far. At this moment … I’m saying the most important is to have fair presidential elections … with equal opportunities for all candidates, Jankovic told Deutsche Welle in the interview published on November 25.
“It is crucial for citizens to have absolute freedom to choose what they want and who they want as well as for the media to provide citizens with information which will enable them to form and express their free will. And, who is a candidate is less important in any democratic country.”
He added that as ombudsman he does not have the right to say yes or no to the appeal.
“I think it is not appropriate to say “yes” as an ombudsman and especially in a moment when presidential elections have not been called yet. … It is the same if you ask a woman during a job interview whether she’ll get pregnant or marry. You have no right to ask someone these questions,” he commented.
However, SNS officials reacted to the appeal by calling on Jankovic to resign.
According to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Affairs Nebojsa Stefanovic, Jankovic abused his position with the purpose of running for president.
“All the time he has been dealing with politics, … for months all he has done is politics, political activism and now we finally have that presidential candidacy,” Stefanovic told national broadcaster RTV Pink on November 25.
“I think that minimal decency from his side would be to resign from the ombudsman position … Thus, I believe this is a story about an extraordinary hypocrisy on his side,” SNS vice president Marija Obradovic said, Tanjug reported on November 26.
She also told journalists that the SNS has not discussed the presidential elections yet.
Jankovic was first elected as Protector of Citizens by the Serbian parliament in June 2007. His five-year mandate was extended in August 2012. A graduate of the Faculty of Law in Belgrade, he initially worked as a journalist at Beta Agency before moving to the ministry of youth and sports. From 2003 until his appointment as Protector of Citizens, he was a national legal advisor in the democratisation department of the OSCE mission to Serbia, according to the Serbian Ombudsman’s website.
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