In a surprising rebuke of Slovakia’s populist governing occasion, Zuzana Caputova — a 45-year-old lawyer, activist and political newcomer — was elected Saturday because the nation’s first feminine president.
Using a wave of well-liked discontent over widespread corruption however refusing to interact in private assaults on her opponents, she vowed to return a way of decency to Slovakia’s typically poisonous political local weather. Her sweeping victory in a runoff election gave hope to opposition events throughout the area that the tide may be turning towards the ethnic nationalist and populist actions which have swept to energy in recent times.
“Possibly we thought that justice and equity in politics have been indicators of weak spot,” she instructed a crowd of supporters round midnight. “At the moment, we see that they’re truly our strengths. We thought that the barrier between conservative and liberal is unbreakable, however we managed to do it.”
The nation’s official statistics workplace mentioned that with 100 p.c of the vote counted, she led with 58 p.c over 42 p.c for Maros Sefcovic, a profession diplomat who had the backing of the nation’s governing occasion, SMER-SD.
“I’m sending her a bouquet of flowers as a result of I feel the primary Slovak feminine president deserves one,” Mr. Sefcovic mentioned as he conceded defeat.
Ms. Caputova had by no means run for workplace and mentioned in a latest interview that she had not given the concept any critical consideration till final 12 months.
However mentioned she might not sit on the sidelines after a younger Slovak journalist, Jan Kuciak, and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, have been shot and killed by successful man employed to cease Mr. Kuciak’s investigations of corruption on the prime ranges of presidency.
She joined the tens of hundreds of Slovaks who took half in avenue demonstrations within the weeks after the killings, the most important protests for the reason that Velvet Revolution three a long time in the past helped Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic and Slovakia, break away from Communist rule.
For a lot of who protested final 12 months, the populism of the governing occasion — with its unrelenting assaults on migrants and the European Union — had develop into little greater than cowl for corruption.
The organizers of the motion, nevertheless, intentionally excluded opposition politicians, cautious of being tied to any political occasion.
Ms. Caputova determined to hitch Progressive Slovakia, a brand new liberal occasion with no illustration in Parliament, and champion a number of easy concepts: civility in public life and transparency in authorities.
Ms. Caputova mentioned she would hand over her occasion membership if elected, a transparent sign to voters that she didn’t wish to lead a brand new political machine.
“I don’t bear in mind a state of affairs when expert politicians have been confronted by anybody who would communicate as overtly, instantly and usually as Zuzana Caputova,” wrote Matus Kostolny, editor in chief of the Slovak day by day Dennik N. He known as Ms. Caputova an “error within the system, a change that we haven’t seen for 30 years.”
Ms. Caputova, a divorced mom of two teenage daughters, lives in Pezinok, a small city close to Bratislava. Earlier than her political rise, the city was recognized for 2 issues: wine and the Pezinok landfill, a poisonous dump.
In 1999, Ms. Caputova joined the battle to carry these chargeable for polluting the city to account. For the following 14 years, she waged a struggle that she ultimately received.
It was that battle that led some to name her the Erin Brockovich of Slovakia.
She mentioned the case had given her perception into how establishments work and the way they are often abused. It additionally ready her for the type of private assaults she would endure all through the marketing campaign. Above all, it confirmed that issues can get higher.
“I’m an optimist,” she mentioned. “Somebody who believes and hopes that change is feasible.”
In 2016, when she went to San Francisco to simply accept the Goldman Environmental Prize for her activism, she mentioned the Pezinok case had been “a lesson in bravery.”
“The case was an intense expertise with the vanity and vulgarity of political and economical energy,” she mentioned. “It was an expertise with evil.”
She used the identical message within the presidential race.
“Let’s battle evil collectively” was her marketing campaign slogan. In an interview, she defined that “evil” referred to not people however to their actions.
One of many marketing campaign’s first commercials confirmed Ms. Caputova going through an intimidating man in a restaurant.
He requested: “So, do we’ve a deal?” To which Ms. Caputova answered a resolute “no.”
She was then requested if she was afraid. Once more, she replied no, including that she was not alone.
The industrial was given added energy as a result of the person bore an unmistakable resemblance to Marian Kocner, a businessman who’s now charged with ordering the homicide of Mr. Kuciak, in addition to a number of monetary crimes. He was additionally related to the Pezinok landfill by way of his ties to a shell firm chargeable for the location.
Ms. Caputova has managed to specific outrage with out rage, calmly calling for transparency, decency and equity in politics and in public life.
Her opponents — in each the overall election and the runoff on Saturday — reached for points which have labored properly prior to now to attract out their most ardent supporters. Migrants have been known as rapists. Homosexual males and lesbians have been portrayed as a risk to conventional households.
Huge conspiracies, typically enjoying into anti-Semitic tropes, have been thrown into the poisonous stew of rhetoric in a rustic that has seen a marked rise in extremist teams in recent times.
The ultimate outcomes have been a victory for a distinct model of politics. However the assist loved by Ms. Caputova’s most excessive challengers, together with Marian Kotleba, an avowed proto-fascist, and Stefan Harabin, an anti-NATO Supreme Courtroom decide — who collectively received greater than 25 p.c of the vote within the normal election — was a reminder that the nation stays deeply divided.
For her half, Ms. Caputova by no means shied from her extra controversial liberal views, together with assist for homosexual rights.
Marian Lesko, a political analyst, mentioned a lot work wanted to be carried out to revive belief in public establishments however that he was hopeful.
“I don’t bear in mind the final time anybody with this sort of agenda has received,” he mentioned.