Anti-corruption campaigner Zuzana Caputova becomes Slovakia’s first female president

Anti-corruption campaigner Zuzana Caputova becomes Slovakia’s first female president
Caputova won over Slovaks eager for political change after the killings of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée shocked the nation.
By bne IntelliNews April 1, 2019

Zuzana Caputova was elected the first-ever female Slovakian president in the second round of the presidential election on March 30, when she took 58.4% of the votes against European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic who ended up with 41.6%.

Caputova, a lawyer and an environmental activist who has been nicknamed “Erin Brockovich”, led the field by a wide margin in the first round on March 16, as Slovakians sought a radical change in domestic politics after the murders of Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova last year. The killings, which have been linked to Kuciak’s final investigation, sparked mass protests in Slovakia that brought down the coalition government headed by former prime minister Robert Fico. 

Caputova was a relative political outside before the election, though she was known for her work as lawyer in a high-profile marathon case over an illegal landfill in her home town of Pezinok. She was a member of the liberal Progressive Slovakia party, but stepped down as vice chair of the party in late March. 

Caputova’s campaign slogan was “against evil, restoring justice”, and she promised to fight corruption, the misuse of power, extremism and lying in public.

“Many countries envy us for electing a president who symbolises values such as decency. The president-elect who said she will stand up to evil and who said that justice is what we need,” said Slovakia’s outgoing President Andrej Kiska. She needs to restore public trust in the state, he added.

The president-elect said this is a specific time when people are frustrated and don't trust politicians and politics itself on TA3's discussion programme 'V politike' (In Politics) on March 31. She perceives it as a great challenge not to disappoint her voters. Her first foreign visit will be to the Czech Republic, as per tradition, but she also wants to travel across Slovakia and meet the public as well as regional politicians.

While headlines have focussed on the fact that Caputova is Slovakia’s first female president (as well as the country’s youngest ever president), Caputova’s gender wasn't a factor in her victory, according to political scientist of Faculty of Arts of Comenius University in Bratislava Pavol Babos, online reported. There has been demand for a change in the form of a candidate who would be different from the governing political elite, said Babos. 

“Had Caputova given up in favour of [fellow political outsider, scientist] Robert Mistrik a month ago, he would have very likely won. It's more interesting that Slovaks don't mind having a female president,” Babos added.  

Political analyst Samuel Abraham holds a similar opinion, saying that “of course it's a great surprise that a woman is president, but she's a person who represents exactly what has been going on here for a year … With her positive energy, fight for justice, she can address the rest of Europe, which has been writhing in uncertainty somewhat.” If she manages to gain a positive image in Europe, it could also strengthen her legitimacy in the country.

Sefcovic’s candidacy suffered as in the context of domestic politics he was seen largely as the candidate of the ruling Smer-SD, whose reputation has been tarnished despite Fico’s resignation last year. 

“In my view, voters were unable to link domestic politics with Sefcovic. After all, he is a man who has spent the majority of his professional life outside Slovakia, primarily in European structures,” said the head of Focus agency Martin Slosiarik to Slovak News Agency, reported.

“I believe he had a slightly harder time defining himself. He didn't completely manage to do so during the pre-election campaign to an extent that his voters would perceive him as authentic.”

Turnout dropped to 41.79% in the second round vote, after in the first round two weeks ago it stood at 48.74%.

The highest regional turnout in the run-off was seen in Bratislava region with 54.66%, the lowest in Kosice region at 35.33%, according to the Slovak Statistics Office's data.

Having won the election, Caputova said on V politike she hopes it will be possible to communicate with Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini of Smer-SD and parliamentary chair Andrej Danko of the Slovak National Party to find solutions for the country.

Caputova’s victory is business neutral, as neither candidate had worried the markets. “The victory of Zuzana Caputova in the presidential race in Slovakia is a good news from the viewpoint of international markets. It is, however, important to note that had Maros Sefcovic won it would have been the same,” said the chief economist of Czech Fund Lukas Kovanda, daily reported, adding that to some extent it can be said that Caputova is “everything that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is not.”

A note from Raiffeisen analysts also stressed Caputova’s pro-EU credentials, saying that “Mrs Caputova is a former lawyer and activist fighting in anti-corruption and environmental cases, and a pro-European oriented liberal.” However, looking ahead to the next general election, they added: “The victory of a liberal pro-European candidate does not imply the same result in the parliamentary elections. They are scheduled for 2020, but we do not rule out an early election in autumn 2019. Slovak voters are hungry for new faces and new parties are able to get a decent popularity in short period of time. For example current president Mr Kiska already announced the plan to establishing a new political party.”