Despite having limited political experience having entered politics only last year, anti-corruption lawyer and liberal candidate Zuzana Čaputová won the March 31 presidential election runoff, defeating high-profile veteran diplomat Maroš Šefčovič.
This is how several world media have described the result of the second round of the presidential race, which brought Slovakia its first female president.
“She framed the election as a struggle between good and evil,” British broadcaster BBC wrote in its report, referring to her campaign slogan.
Many pointed to the call for change in politics and the return of decency. Her victory, among others, also bucks the trend of a rising popularity of anti-system parties and politicians in the region, as the world media reported.
“Riding a wave of popular discontent over widespread corruption but refusing to engage in personal attacks on her opponents, she vowed to return a sense of decency to Slovakia’s often toxic political climate,” The New York Times wrote. “Her sweeping victory in a run-off election gave hope to opposition parties across the region that the tide might be turning against the ethnic nationalist and populist movements that have swept to power in recent years.”
Changes prompted by Kuciak’s murder
Čaputová came into prominence for her years-long fight against an illegal landfill in her hometown Pezinok, close to Bratislava. It was that battle that led some to call her the Erin Brockovich of Slovakia, according to The New York Times.
She decided to run after the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, last February. Kuciak often wrote about the corrupt links involving the government, several world media reported.
“Ms Čaputová’s journey from political obscurity to Slovakia’s highest office is a sign of how dramatically Slovak politics have been upended by the brutal killing of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová thirteen months ago,” the Financial Times wrote.
The newspaper added that she rode a wave of popular revulsion at the killings, making “against evil” her campaign slogan, and promising to fight “corruption, the misuse of power, extremism, and lying in public life”.
She and incumbent President Andrej Kiska had also supported the massive anti-government street protests last year triggered by the murders that led to the fall of Robert Fico’s coalition government, as the Associated Press reminded.
The AFP news agency in this respect wrote about an endorsement from Jozef Kuciak, the murdered journalist’s brother, who denounced Šefčovič 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.
Not riding on a wave of populism
The final results were a victory for a different brand of politics, according to New York Times.
Čaputová’s victory may give a boost to opposition parties looking to replace Smer, still the most popular party, in next year’s general election, as the Reuters newswire reported.
However, they both pointed to the fact that anti-system voters, represented in the first round of the presidential race by far-right extremist Marian Kotleba and Supreme Court judge Štefan Harabin, who together won some 25 percent of the vote, may pose a problem.
The victory is also unique when compared to some of Slovakia’s neighbours.
“Her emphatic victory represents a rare success for liberal forces in central Europe, where populist and nationalist parties have racked up a string of victories in recent years, and pushed through illiberal reforms that have sparked consternation in Brussels that the region is drifting away from its democratic moorings,” Financial Times wrote.