Anti-Corruption Outsider Wins First Round of Slovak Elections

Slovak presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova pictured in February 2019 at a press conference. (Wikimedia Commons)

Slovak presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova pictured in February 2019 at a press conference. (Wikimedia Commons)

After the first round of Slovakia’s presidential election, anti-corruption lawyer Zuzana Caputova has emerged as the front-runner with 40.5 percent of the vote. Maros Sefcovic, the candidate backed by the ruling Smer party, only won 18.7 percent. Caputova is running on a liberal agenda, calling for justice and decency. Slovakia will hold the second round of elections on March 30, pitting Caputova against Sefcovic.

Although the majority of Slovakia’s executive power rests in the hands of the prime minister, the primarily ceremonial role of the president is indicative of the country’s mood. The success of a relative outsider like Caputova represents not only a rejection of right-wing populism and the political elite, but also a recommitment to a focus on eliminating corruption and improving government efficiency.

The murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova rocked Slovakia in 2018 . At the time of his murder, Kuciak was reporting on ties between an Italian mafia group, ‘Ndrangheta, and numerous Slovak notables, including persons tied to Smer, the ruling party. An unstoppable wave of backlash by protestors followed his murder resulting in Prime Minister Robert Fico and several other top officials’ resignations.

Less than a week before the elections, prosecutors charged controversial Slovak businessman Marian Kocner with ordering Kuciak’s murder. The government’s slow response and late indictment of Kocner undoubtedly hurt Sefcovic’s vote tally. Deep disillusionment with the current state of politics left many Slovaks unwilling to support the establishment-backed candidate. For many, Caputova’s inexperience in the political arena was a surprisingly appealing breath of fresh air. In a race that included 13 candidates, Caputova’s numbers of support are all the more impressive.

The second round of elections promises an entirely new ordeal. Caputova must work to retain her base from the first round, whilst Sefcovic will look to appeal to the 80 percent of voters who eluded him in mid-March. Sefcovic has adopted a parallel platform to Fico’s from his 2014 presidential run, which Fico lost.

For the rest of Europe, the results of March 30 will present a win-win situation. Whether it be Caputova or Sefcovic elected as president, they can rest assured knowing both candidates hold a strong pro-European perspective on policy. Caputova’s victory would mark the arrival of the first female Slovakian president. She has successfully managed to tap into the vein of anger and disillusionment among Slovaks, though it remains to be seen whether she can defeat Sefcovic one-on-one.

As hardliners brand her as a “lover of migration” and label her stance on LGBT rights as equitable to “homosexual madness,” March 30 will show whether Caputova’s liberalness is “too liberal” for Slovakia.