Voters in Slovakia elected activist Zuzana Čaputová their first female president over the weekend, delivering a rebuke to right-wing nationalism.
Politico framed Čaputová’s win as “cause for celebration for pro-EU and democratic forces throughout Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in Brussels.”
The 45-year-old lawyer and political novice secured 58 percent of the vote in Saturday’s runoff election, easily beating European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, who nabbed just 42 percent of the vote.
Šefčovič was backed by the ruling Smer-SD party. Čaputová is part of the newly-formed Progressive Slovakia, and her platform calls for justice for all, dignity for the elderly, and environmental protection.
Čaputová’s lengthy and successful campaign against a toxic waste dump in her home town of Pezinok earned her the moniker the “Erin Brokovich of Slovakia” as well as the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2016.
Applauding her electoral victory, the prize committee wrote on Twitter, “We cannot imagine a stronger advocate for the Slovak people and environment.”
Her activism has continued since the Goldman award. More recently, she’s taken to the streets as part of the wave of protests against the 2018 murders of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová.
Kuciak, as Agence France-Presse reported,
The anti-corruption campaigner also made a stance in her victory speech not only in the words she delivered but her language choice.
She said “decency in politics” can be “our strength,” and she called for people to seek “what unites us.”
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Reuters also reported that
“This was an absolute first in Slovak politics,” wrote DW‘s Keno Verseck.
“With her election to the presidency, Čaputová has become the most prominent representative of progressive politics in the region,” he added, and argued that her win “sends a clear signal that the vast majority of Slovaks want fundamental change.”
While the president wields limited power in the country—he or she is able to “pick the prime minister, appoint Constitutional Court judges, and veto laws,” as CBS noted—Verseck suggested that “Čaputová’s voice will carry a great deal of weight in Slovakia.”
“If this new president succeeds in implementing even some of her political and social plans,” he said, “we should not underestimate the signal that would send to the region as a whole.”