An environmental lawyer with no history in public office is poised to win the election for the presidency in Slovakia. Zuzana Caputova, an activist and anti-corruption candidate, captured 40% of the vote, trouncing her nearest competitor who won just 19%. Because no candidate won 50%, a runoff will be held on March 30.
Caputova, 45, continues the streak of outsider candidates seizing popular support. She is a founding member of small progressive party with no seats in parliament, and beat out establishment candidate and European Commission official Maros Sefcovic, who has ruling-party backing. If she wins the presidency, a limited role, Caputova would be able to veto laws passed by parliament and appoint judges to the national judiciary.
Caputova would also break with the continent’s recent turn away from the European Union, as she strongly supports Slovakia’s membership in the bloc and in NATO. That’s also a sigh of relief for observers worried about the far right’s resurgence in Europe. (Slovakian neo-Nazi Marian Kotleba lost badly in the election, with just 10% of the vote.)
Caputova campaigned on an anti-corruption agenda, bolstered by her record as a relentless environmental campaigner. In 2016, she received the Goldman Prize, sometimes referred to as the Green Nobel, for her work challenging the expansion of a dangerous illegal landfill near her home in the town of Pezinok, where the incidence of cancer had soared. Her work over more than a decade led to mass protests (at the time “the largest mobilization of citizens since the 1989 Velvet Revolution,” noted the Goldman Prize) and a Slovakian Supreme Court ruling in 2014 that a newly proposed landfill was illegal and the old one should be shut down. It also led to Caputova becoming known as “Slovakia’s Erin Brockovich.”
Now Caputova intends to clean up Slovakia’s politics. Transparency International ranks the country poorly (just above Saudi Arabia at No. 57) due to public sector corruption, based on surveys with experts and businesspeople. Last year, the country was rocked by the murder of a journalist investing corruption by high-ranking officials, leading to massive protests.
“I see a strong call for change in this election following the tragic events last spring,” Caputova told reporters as she cast her ballot in the most recent election. “We stand on a crossroads between the loss and renewal of public trust.”