Anti-corruption activist set to win Slovakia presidential run-off

Bratislava (AFP) –


A liberal environmental lawyer known for fighting graft is poised for a thumping victory in Slovakia's presidential run-off, polls showed Friday, amid a strong public backlash against the murder of a journalist probing high-level corruption.

Political greenhorn Zuzana Caputova could command at least 60 percent of the vote to become the first woman to hold the presidency in the eurozone country of 5.4 million people, three separate surveys showed.

She scored double-digit leads over rival European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, a 52-year-old career diplomat backed by the governing leftist Smer-SD party, in the race for the largely ceremonial post.

Caputova took 65 percent support compared to 35 percent for Sefcovic in a Friday internet poll by top circulation Slovak tabloid daily Novy Cas, which surveyed 32,800 voters.

A poll by the Median agency for public broadcaster RTVS suggested on Thursday that Caputova would score 60.5 percent support based on a survey of 1,014 voting-age Slovaks.

A Friday straw poll of 18,000 highschool students who are not yet of voting age gave her a whopping 74.16 percent of the ballots cast.

The election comes after a year which saw the largest protests since the communist era, triggered by the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend.

They were gunned down gang-land style in their home in February 2018 as Kuciak was about to publish a report on alleged ties between Slovak politicians and the Italian mafia and associated irregularities in EU farm subsidy payments.

- 'Authentic individual' -

Kuciak's murder and his last explosive report, published posthumously, plunged the country into crisis, sparking weekly mass protests that forced the government to resign in March 2018.

Marian Kocner, a property developer with links to the governing Smer-SD, has been charged with ordering the hit on Kuciak who had probed some of his suspect business dealings.

Caputova, 45, was among tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets after the killing which put a spotlight on political corruption.

Transparency International ranks Slovakia in 57th place in its list of the world's most corrupt countries and high-level corruption has long been a top election issue.

Outgoing President Andrej Kiska owed his 2014 victory to his image as an untainted political newcomer and self-made millionaire who earned his fortune in the US.

"If someone is perceived as an authentic individual fuelling hopes in future fights against corruption, this person is very likely to collect preferences," political analyst Pavol Babos told AFP, explaining Caputova's skyrocketing popularity.

Caputova won the March 16 first round of the election with 40 percent of the vote compared to 19 percent for Sefcovic. The run-off is set for March 30.