Anti-corruption lawyer Zuzana Caputova wins election to become Slovakia’s first female president

Pro-EU candidate rides wave of fury over corruption to defeat mainstream politicians

Tatiana Jancarikova
Sunday 31 March 2019 14:56
Comments
Zuzana Caputova has promised to end what she calls the capture of the state 'by people pulling strings from behind'
Zuzana Caputova has promised to end what she calls the capture of the state 'by people pulling strings from behind'

Riding a wave of public fury over corruption, liberal lawyer Zuzana Caputova won Slovakia's presidential election on Saturday, bucking a trend that has seen populist, anti-European Union politicians make gains across the continent.

Corruption and change in political style were the main themes ahead of the run-off vote, which took place a year after journalist Jan Kuciak, who investigated high-profile fraud cases, and his fiancé were murdered at their home.

Ms Caputova, a pro-EU political novice who will be the euro zone country's first female president, had 58.3 per cent of the vote after results from 98.1 per cent of districts were counted, ahead of European commissioner Maros Sefcovic who took 41.7 per cent.

Mr Sefcovic, a respected diplomat who is also pro-EU, is backed by the ruling party Smer, the largest grouping in parliament that has dominated Slovak politics since 2006.

Ms Caputova, who was the front runner after winning the first round more than 20 points ahead of Mr Sefcovic, campaigned to end what she called the capture of the state by people pulling strings from behind, a message that opinion polls show resonated with younger, educated voters.

The 45-year-old member of a liberal non-parliamentary Progressive Slovakia party – which she pledged to leave if elected – has been endorsed by opposition parties and a junior party in the ruling coalition that represents the ethnic Hungarian minority, as well as outgoing president Andrej Kiska.

Ms Caputova started her acceptance speech by thanking voters in Slovak, as well as in the Hungarian, Czech, Roma and Ruthenian languages, turning to all main minority groups.

"I am happy not just for the result but mainly that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without aggressive vocabulary," she told a crowd of supporters.

"This started in the local election last year, was confirmed in the presidential election, and I believe the European [parliamentary election in May] will confirm it as well."

'Slovakia’s Erin Brockovich'

Slovakia's president wields little day-to-day power but appoints prime ministers and can veto appointments of senior prosecutors and judges.

Five people have been charged with the murders of Kuciak and his fiancé Martina Kusnirova, including businessman Marian Kocner, who was investigated by Kuciak, and who has become a symbol of perceived impunity after more than a decade of rule by Smer. Mr Kocner denies any wrongdoing.

The killings ignited the biggest protests in Slovakia's post-communist history and forced the resignation of Smer leader Robert Fico as prime minister last year.

Ms Caputova had waged a 14-year fight with a company Mr Kocner represented that wanted to build an illegal landfill in her home town. She eventually won the case, earning her the nickname "Slovakia's Erin Brockovich" after the American environmentalist portrayed by Julia Roberts in a 2000 film.

Tony Blair: Populist forces across Europe will grow in intensity

Ms Caputova's victory complicates Mr Fico's plan to leave politics by becoming head of the Constitutional Court – a position vetted by the president.

It may give a boost to opposition parties looking to replace Smer, still the most popular party, in next year's general election.

But political analysts have said a socially liberal president will also mobilise Smer and anti-system voters, a fight already foreshadowed by Mr Fico this week when he referred to liberals as "people without values".

Mr Fico's Smer is a social democrat party but has also taken socially conservative positions. A row with the president could make Mr Fico push the country closer to eurosceptic and socially conservative leaders in neighbouring Hungary and Poland.

There was an indication of that this week when Smer teamed up with the centre-right Slovak National party, the far-right People's Party-Our Slovakia and the populist We Are Family movement to halt ratification of a European treaty designed to combat violence against women.

Reuters

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in