On March 30, history was created when the divorced mother-of-two won the Slovakia’s presidential election, becoming the first female head of state of the country.
Zuzana Caputova, 45, known for her liberal views and her campaigning against corruption in this central European country, has almost no political experience. She defeated high-profile diplomat Maros Sefcovic, 52, who is the political “old” and applied to join the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in May 1989, six months before the fall of the regime.
Mr Sefcovic was nominated by the governing Smer-SD party.
Slovakia, right at heart of Europe, became an independent country in January 1993 following “velvet divorce” in which Republic of Czechoslovakia broke into two independent countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Ordinary voters related to Ms Caputova more as compared to men in suits who dominated Slovak politics.
Ms Caputova cited the murder of a Slovak investigative journalist and his partner as one of the reasons she decided to run for president, which is a largely ceremonial role.
Robert Fico, head of Smer-SD party, had to resign as prime minister following the killings.
Ms Caputova won 58% of the vote, and Mr Sefcovic, who is vice president of the European Commission, got 42%. She is a member of the liberal Progressive Slovakia party, which has no seats in parliament. Ms Caputova’s liberal views have seen her promote LGBT rights in a country country where same-sex marriage and adoption is not yet legal.
Ms Caputova gained national prominence as a lawyer when she led a case against an illegal landfill lasting 14 years.
She will be sworn in on 15 June when Slovakia’s current president, Andrej Kiska, finishes his term of office. Some analysts feel Mr Fico will launch a campaign against her right away, before June’s inauguration. “The parliament would seek to stymie her liberal agenda even before she took office, for example by passing legislation to make same-sex marriage difficult if not impossible,” he said.
Ms Caputova framed the election as a struggle between good and evil. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” read a post on her Facebook page as she appealed to Slovakia’s 4.4 million registered voters to back her in the presidential race.
One year after the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, 27, and his partner Martina Kusnirova in Velka Maca, a village 65km east of the capital Bratislava, the presidential election was seen as a litmus test of how far Slovak society has changed.
Matus Kostolny, editor-in-chief of the liberal daily Dennik N, said Ms Caputova’s victory is proof that the majority of people in Slovakia care about their country and are fed up with the corrupt and criminal system of Mr Fico.
In February this year, Slovakia erupted in protests in memory of the murdered journalist and his fiancée. About 25,000 people rallied in the capital Bratislava. Protests were held in more than 50 towns and cities across Slovakia.
The killing of a journalist had shaken the country a year before and united it when people took out a rally as an act of remembrance. It was also a political event – it was the first such targeted killing of a journalist in Slovak history, and people called for the political old guard, including Mr Fico, to resign.
The murders convulsed Slovak society. Contract killings linked to corruption investigations are relatively rare in Central Europe.
The pair were due to be married in the spring. Kusnirova, an archaeologist, was buried in her wedding dress. Prime Minister Robert Fico resigned after three weeks of mass demonstrations.
The murder was most likely related to the journalist’s investigative work, police said. Kuciak had written about alleged tax fraud involving luxury apartments. He had been working for Aktuality.sk, an online unit of Swiss and German-owned publisher Ringier Axel Springer, for three years.