Bratislava, Slovakia – History is in the making in Slovakia.
Slovaks have just elected Zuzana Čaputová, a 45-year-old anti-corruption lawyer, as its first female president in history.
According to preliminary results, Čaputová won 58.4% of the votes (around 1.050.000 ballots), compared to 41.6% (750.000 votes) for opponent Smer-nominee Maroš Šefčovič, who called her to congratulate her around midnight.
At roughly 41.8%, turnout reached an all-time low for a Slovak presidential election, and was seven points lower than first round participation.
The election of Zuzana Čaputová, an environmental activist nicknamed “Slovakia’s Erin Brockovich” and political newcomer with no experience in public office, is a stinging rebuke of the ruling Smer party and finds its roots in the public outrage sparked by the murder, last year, of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak. Her anti-corruption platform, which some analysts billed as “populist”, echoed the population’s call for ‘greater decency’, accountability and honesty from its political representatives.
In the first round of the election, Zuzana Čaputová won a landslide victory with 40.5%, well ahead of Maroš Šefčovič’s 18.7%. To close the gap with his opponent, Šefčovič, an EU Commissioner and Soviet-era, Moscow-educated career diplomat who spent most of his career in Brussels, went fishing for the votes of far-right and radical candidates Štefan Harabin (14.4%) and Marian Kotleba (10.4%), respectively third and fourth on March 16. He led an aggressive, but unconvincing, campaign to portray himself as a true Christian and champion of conservative values, while trying to present Čaputová, whose agenda includes support for abortion and same-sex partnerships, as an “ultra-liberal” candidate.
Hailed as an unprecedented milestone in the country’s history, Čaputová’s election also embodies, for many, the hope of a new trend in Central European politics, and the impending arrival of a new generation of politicians to counter the rise of populism, illiberalism and authoritarianism sweeping through the region.
Čaputová will officially take office and replace president Andrej Kiska at Bratislava’s Presidential Palace in June.