Anti-graft lawyer Zuzana Caputova won Slovakia’s presidential election on Saturday, making her the country’s first female head of state, breaking the trend that has seen populist, anti-European Union politicians make gains across the continent.
Pro-EU Caputova rode on a campaign of change and vowed to end corruption in a country, which she said is run “by people pulling strings from behind”.
The run-off vote took place a year after journalist Jan Kuciak, who investigated high-profile fraud cases, and his fiancée were murdered at their home. The killings sparked public outrage and some of the biggest protests in Slovakia’s post-communist history. It also forced the former prime minister Smer leader Robert Fico to resign last year.
The 45-year old political novice won about 58.3% of the voted ahead of the more politically savvy European commissioner Maros Sefcovic who took 41.7%.
Sefcovic, who is also pro-EU and is a respected diplomat had the backing of the populist ruling party, SMER.
In the first round of votes two weeks ago, Caputova won with 40.5% and Sefcovic trailed behind her with 18.7%.
“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,” Caputova told a crowd of supporters in her acceptance speech.
“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.”
As vice-chairwoman of the Progressive Slovakia party, Caputova supports gay marriage and adoption.
She has also been dubbed “Slovakia’s Erin Brockovich” after winning a case that wanted to build an illegal landfill in her home town.