Slovakia's first female president declares war on political bribery

Environmental lawyer Zuzana Caputova beated EU Commisioner Maros Sefcovic on runoff

Environmental lawyer and anti-corruption activist Zuzana Caputova will become Slovakia’s first female president after she won run-off election last Saturday. Caputova got 58% of the ballot while her rival, the EU energy commissioner and ruling party candidate Maros Sefcovic garnered 42%. Caputova, a political newcomer, campaigned with a slogan of ‘Stand up to evil’, rejecting at the same time hate speeches.

"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 supporters after her victory.

The 45-year-old lawyer became known for leading a successful fight against a toxic waste dump in her home town of Pezinok, near the capital, Bratislava, for which she received an international environmental prize in 2016. A divorced mother of two who is in favour of gay rights and opposes a ban on abortion in the conservative Roman Catholic country, she attracts mainly younger, educated voters, who are appalled by corruption and mainstream politics.

Last year Caputova took to the streets along with tens of thousands of other anti-government protesters after the murder of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak, who had been preparing to publish a story on alleged ties between Slovak politicians and the Italian mafia. Kuciak was gunned down alongside his fiancee in February 2018. The killings forced then PM Robert Fico to resign but he remains leader of the populist-left Smer-SD and is a close ally of the current premier Peter Pellegrini. Reacting to the murder, the European Parliament voiced “concern about the allegations of corruption, conflicts of interest, impunity and revolving doors in Slovakia’s circles of power”.

Ahead of presidential run-off Caputova won an endorsement from Jozef Kuciak, the journalist’s brother, who denounced her rival Sefcovic for his ties to the political establishment. “I will not vote for someone supported by oligarchs and their people who have deprived me of my brother and sister-in-law,” he said.

Speaking to AFP during the election campaign, Caputova said she would “initiate systematic changes that would deprive prosecutors and the police of political influence”. In addition to fighting for justice for all, she has promised better care for the elderly and environmental protection.

After the election results Slovakia's PM Peter Pellegrini, who belongs to the governing Smer-SD party, said he expected “constructive cooperation”. Outgoing President Andrej Kiska told reporters that "Slovakia is in a moral crisis and needs a president like Zuzana Caputova." “Many countries probably envy us for we have chosen a president who symbolises values like decency”, he said.

Slovakia’s president does not wield much day-to-day power but can pick the prime minister and veto appointments of senior prosecutors and judges, pivotal in the fight against corruption. However, the Parliament can override the presidential veto with a simple majority. Caputova will enter in office in June.

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