Serbian ombudsman Sasa Jankovic announced on February 7 that he will be a candidate in the spring 2017 presidential elections. Earlier in the day Jankovic had submitted his resignation to the parliament to avoid any suspicion that he abused his position in his election campaign.
Hundreds of public figures and ordinary citizens appealed to Jankovic to stand as a non-party candidate in November, and he is seen as having the potential to get through to the second round of the election against the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) candidate. He already has the support of most of Serbia’s pro-EU parties and the parties that identify as democratic because of the democratic values and principles he has been promoting for years.
On the other hand, his plans to run for the presidency were widely criticised by the governing parties, which claimed he didn’t have the right to be an ombudsman and launch a presidential campaign.
Jankovic appeared confident after making his announcement. “If I didn’t believe that I could win, I wouldn’t run,” he told regional broadcaster N1 on February 7.
“Politics is strategic management of a country’s future. This is a question of whether the government will control citizens or citizens the government, as well as the question of why politicians are so gross to citizens. This is a question of elementary values which touch all of us. It seems to me this is what I can do to bring back citizens’ trust in the state,” Jankovic told N1.
When announcing his candidacy, he said that he was standing for election because he wanted to ensure that the presidency would serve all citizens and “not only one person”, regional broadcaster N1 reported.
“I want to be a candidate because I want to bring back a smile to Serbia’s citizens, dignity and future and to be a president in the name of all citizens, a protector of Serbia, of all of us,” Jankovic told journalists on February 7.
The ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its junior coalition partners, in particular the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), have been very loud in criticising Jankovic even though they still haven’t announced who their candidate will be. It will most likely be either Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic or the incumbent President Tomislav Nikolic. The SPS has many times underlined that it will support the SNS’s choice.
Whoever the SNS picks as its candidate, he and Jankovic do not have the same potential voters. The candidate who might weaken support for both is Serbia’s former minister of foreign affairs and former president of the UN General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic. Either Jankovic or Jeremic is likely go through to the second round against the SNS candidate, and this will largely depend on their performance in the upcoming campaign.
Jankovic is not a party candidate, but talking to N1 he said that several political parties and citizens associations supported him. Among them are the opposition Democratic Party (DS) and Nova Stranka (NS), a couple citizens movements and the citizens initiative “Don’t Drown Belgrade”.
Don't Drown Belgrade was launched after buildings in Belgrade's Savamala district were secretly demolished in April 2016 to make way for the Belgrade Waterfront development. This sparked anger and six mass demonstrations took place between May and September. Jankovic had an important role in this since he has been demanding an explanation from the government. However, it is still unknown who was responsible for the demolitions and the protests petered out.
Jankovic was first elected as ombudsman in June 2007 by a comfortable majority in the parliament. He was re-elected for new five-year term in August 2012, again with a comfortable majority even though the composition of the parliament had significantly changed and the SNS had a majority.
As graduate of the Faculty of Law in Belgrade, Jankovic initially worked as a journalist at Beta Agency before moving to the ministry of youth and sports. From 2003 until his appointment as ombudsman, he was a national legal advisor in the democratisation department of the OSCE mission to Serbia, according to the Serbian ombudsman’s website.
Until the election of new ombudsman, Jankovic will be replaced by his deputy Milos Jankovic, the ombudsman’s February 7 statement reads.