Fight to End Corruption Puts Zuzana Čaputová On Course to Become President of Slovakia

Fight to End Corruption Puts Zuzana Čaputová On Course to Become President of Slovakia

Zuzana Čaputová, a lawyer with no experience of public office, has won the first round of Slovakia’s presidential elections. Čaputová, who secured 40.5 percent of the vote, is a pro-European liberal whose campaign was heavily focused on ending political corruption.

Despite the underwhelming turnaround in the first round of Slovakia’s presidential elections, a political newcomer could spell trouble to the ruling Smer party.

Zuzana Čaputová, an environmental lawyer whose campaign focused on ending government corruption, is now ahead of gubernatorial candidate and European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič on 18.7 percent, according to the national statistics office. Čaputová and Šefčovič will face off again in the final round of the presidential elections, scheduled for March 30.

According to the Slovak Spectator, the win was in line with general expectations raised by the last opinion polls published two weeks before the presidential election. Čaputová secured immense support from the public despite never holding public office, with her campaign running under the slogan “Let’s fight evil together.”

“The results have shown Slovakia is calling for a change,” Čaputová told journalists after the first preliminary results of the vote were published on Saturday night.

Riding the wave of anger and protests targeted at the government, she became the face of a pro-European, rule-of-law movement that started gaining traction last year. Calling for a more transparent government resounded with voters who took the streets en masse last year following the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak. At the time, Kuciak was investigating tax fraud involving businessmen connected to Slovakia’s ruling party.

The protests that followed the murder ultimately led to the resignation of then-prime minister and leader of the ruling Smer party Robert Fico. And while Fico’s government still remains in power, the party’s popularity is down to a historic low, creating a fertile ground for a far-left politician such as Čaputová.

“I see a strong call for change in this election following the tragic events last spring and a very strong public reaction,” Čaputová said on Saturday. “We stand at a crossroads between the loss and renewal of public trust, also in terms of Slovakia’s foreign policy orientation.”

The 45-year-old mother of two stands out among the rising tide of populist nationalists across much of Europe and represents a figure that has an appeal across a wide range of voters.”Some are emotionally attracted by the fact that she’s a woman. For rational voters, it’s her message that works: restoring justice. She’s able to unite people in opposition against politics as usual,” Martin Slosiarik, director of the FOCUS pollster, told Bloomberg.

Slovakia’s robust economic growth and rising living standards, which many say are courtesy of the ruling Smer party, have surprisingly pushed its residents away from the traditional right and center-right political forces within the country.

Serving as a vice-chairwoman of the Progressive Slovakia party, the latest left-wing political fraction that was created in the country, Čaputová holds views that appeal to the country’s young and progressive groups. Apart from supporting legalizing gay partnerships and adoption, Čaputová supports maintaining the existing status quo when it comes to abortion.

Slovakia’s pro-EU, environmentally conscious voters were drawn to her due to her involvement with the fight against an illegal landfill in the western Slovak town of Pezinok. The fight, which lasted almost 10 years and culminated when the Supreme Court ruled the landfill illegal, earned Čaputová the prestigious Goldman Environmental Award in 2016.

Endorsed by outgoing President Andrej Kiska, who did not seek reelection, Čaputová has promised to end what she calls the capture of the state “by people pulling strings from behind,” while maintaining the course of Slovakia’s foreign policy, Reuters reported.

And while Slovakia’s presidency is mostly a ceremonial, as the president doesn’t wield day-to-day power, Čaputová’s election could change the country’s political and judicial landscape. As president, she would have veto power over the appointments of senior prosecutors and judges, pivotal in the fight against corruption.

(Image source: Slavomír Frešo/Wikimedia Commons)

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