Caputova, who has almost no political experience, has vowed to end what she calls the capture of the state by “people pulling strings from behind”.
Zuzana Caputova, a liberal environmental activist, has won Slovakia’s presidential election, making her the country’s first female head of state.
According to National Public Radio, Caputova gained popularity in Slovakia “after her decade-long crusade to shut down a toxic waste dump, which was spewing poison into her hometown of Pezinok in western Slovakia”. Her fight to close the site earned her a prestigious Goldman Environmental prize in 2016, along with the nickname ‘Erin Brockovich of Slovakia.’
Now the political newcomer has campaigned to end what she calls the capture of the state “by people pulling strings from behind”. And, with 58% of the vote, it seems her promises have resonated with the Slovakian public: Caputova has beaten European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, a seasoned diplomat backed by the country’s governing Smer-Social Democracy party.
Caputova’s acceptance speech saw her thank voters in Slovak, as well as in Hungarian, Czech, Roma and Ruthenian languages.
“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 a crowd of supporters.
“This started in the local election last year, was confirmed in the presidential election, and I believe the European (parliamentary election in May) will confirm it as well.”
The election follows the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, who was looking into links between politicians and organised crime when he was shot at home alongside his fiancée in February 2018.
Caputova, who framed herself as the “anti-corruption candidate”, cited Kuciak’s murder as one of the reasons she decided to run for president (which is a largely ceremonial role), insisting she intended to “stand up to evil”.
And, while Slovakia’s president wields little day-to-day power (other than appointing prime ministers and vetoing appointments of senior prosecutors and judges), Caputova has vowed to use the platform to promote transparency and LGBTQ+ rights.
Caputova is a member of the liberal Progressive Slovakia party, which has no seats in parliament.
She will be sworn in on 15 June when Slovakia’s current president, Andrej Kiska, finishes his term of office.
Image: VLADIMIR SIMICEK/AFP/Getty