Zuzana Caputova: Anti-corruption activist known as Slovakia’s Erin Brockovich elected president | World News

Slovakia’s new head of state of is a woman who campaigned to fight corruption, environmental damage and incivility in politics.

Zuzana Caputova bucked a populist trend that appears to be sweeping Europe by taking nearly 60% of the vote to beat anti-immigration Maros Sefcovic in a run-off.

To become Slovakia’s first women president, she rode a wave of public eagerness for change a year after a journalist investigating links between businessmen and politicians was murdered.

Ms Caputova’s success came despite her refusing to take part in personal attacks on her opponents, including several from the far-right.

Instead, she campaigned to end what she called the state being run “by people pulling strings from behind”.

“I’m extremely happy about the result,” she said after 95% of the votes were in. “It’s an extremely strong mandate for me.”

EU Commissioner Maros Sefcovic was Ms Caputova’s losing opponent

Ms Caputova, 45, has little experience of politics at national level.

She only recently became vice chairman of Progressive Slovakia, a party so new it has not had a chance to take part in parliamentary elections.

Ms Caputova then resigned from the party so she could run for the role of president, which is largely ceremonial but does have limited powers of veto and as commander in chief of the armed forces.

She did, however, have experience of successfully fighting a toxic waste dump in her hometown of Pezinok.

After successfully doing so, she won a major environmental prize in 2016 and became known as the country’s Erin Brokovich, after the US activist played by Julia Roberts in the 2000 Oscar-nominated film.

She is in favour of gay rights and opposes a ban on abortion in the conservative Roman Catholic country.

She had also taken part in the mass demonstrations against the murders of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancee.

Slovak authorities believe the murder was a contract killing linked to Mr Kuciak’s work and have charged a businessman with ordering the alleged murders.

Mr Sefcovic, a European Commission vice president, had the support of Slovakia’s SMER-SD party, which has been in power for 13 years.

The 52-year-old career diplomat campaigned on a traditional family values ticket.

A Slovakian top judge who criticised Muslim migrants for “killing and raping European women in Germany and France” and a populist far-right leader, who has been accused of white supremacism, were eliminated after the first round of voting but between them won nearly 25% of the vote.

Mr Sefcovic said he had sent Ms Caputova a bouquet of flowers after her victory was announced “because I think the first Slovak female president deserves one”.

Slovakia’s government, which is led by the prime minister, possesses most of the power to set policy.

Ms Caputova will assume office in June.

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