Slovakia has elected their first ever female head of state, a relative newcomer to politics who has promised to ‘stand up to evil’.
Zuzana Caputova, 45, managed to defeat Maros Sefcovic, the vice president of the European Commission who had been nominated by the governing party, SMER-SD.
In a true David and Goliath victory, Ms Caputova won by around 58 per cent to Mr Sefcovic’s 42 per cent during a second round run-off vote.
Although this presidential role is largely ceremonial, this is still a deeply meaningful victory for many of those living in Slovakia.
Many citizens have grown concerned about the lack of transparency in government – as well as the rise in ethnic nationalism and populist movements – and have felt inspired by Ms Caputova’s progressive views and impassioned criticism of corruption.
.@ZuzanaCaputova, a pro-EU anti-corruption lawyer, has become the 1st female President of #Slovakia. She defeated conservative candidate @MarosSefcovic in the run-off presidential election. Her victory caps off #WomensHistoryMonth in a big way. Congratulations Zuzana!🇸🇰 pic.twitter.com/1L4WGNRxCS
— Geovanny Vicente Romero (@GeovannyVicentR) March 31, 2019
As reported by The New York Times, Ms Caputova made the following comments to her supporters at around midnight:
Maybe we thought that justice and fairness in politics were signs of weakness,
Today, we see that they are actually our strengths. We thought that the barrier between conservative and liberal is unbreakable, but we managed to do it.
Ms Caputova’s campaign slogan during the presidential campaign was ‘Let’s fight evil together’, with her liberal, open minded views contrasting with Mr Sefcovic’s anti-migrant rhetoric and hard line stance against LGBTQ+ rights.
Today marks an incredible milestone for my homeland. Not only did Slovakia elect its first female president, but it also opened a gateway to the long-awaited and much needed political change. Proud of my peoples today and even prouder to call #ZuzanaČaputová my president!
— Natalia Lasakova (@natlasakova) March 30, 2019
Ms Caputova is a highly accomplished lawyer and activist who was driven to run for office after the 2018 murder of Jan Kuciak, a young Slovak journalist who had been investigating government corruption.
Following Mr Kuciak’s murder, tens of thousands of Slovak citizens took to the streets in protest, angered by the toxic state of the populist governing party.
Ms Caputova was among those protesting, and – feeling it was time to take political action – opted to join new liberal party Progressive Slovakia. The party – which had no parliamentary representation – emphasised fairness, decency and government transparency.
Very strong moment for #Slovakia: #ZuzanaCaputova lits candle at improvised memorial of assassinated journalist #JanKuciak & MartinaKusnirova, the first thing she does as President-Elect. Something none of the gov't politicians have ever done. #allforjan (@tomas_halasz, @dennikN) pic.twitter.com/lYZfgA5GaS
— Pavol Szalai (@pavolszalai) March 31, 2019
Prior to entering political life, Ms Caputova – a divorced mother of two – was sometimes referred to as the ‘Erin Brockovich of Slovakia’ after leading a 14 year long case against an illegal landfill.
She was widely praised for the way in which she bravely called out those who were polluting the town of Pezinok.
In 2016, she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize on account of her environmental activism.
A 45-year-old progressive who ran on anti-corruption agenda to become first female president.
A headline that belongs to …. Slovakia.
(A blow to the populist and vociferously anti-immigrant president of the neighboring Czech Republic) https://t.co/c29DrV3BRJ
— Heidi Przybyla (@HeidiNBC) March 31, 2019
Many congratulations to Zuzana Caputova. This win has brought hope to many people in Slovakia and will hopefully signal a move towards a kinder, more inclusive politics.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.