BFF-06, 07 Slovaks vote for president with outsider tipped to win

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ZCZC

BFF-06

SLOVAKIA-VOTE

Slovaks vote for president with outsider tipped to win

BRATISLAVA, March 30, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Slovaks vote for a new president on
Saturday with the odds-on-favourite an outsider whose anti-corruption stance
has resonated with voters, still reeling from the fallout from an
investigative journalist’s murder.

An environmental lawyer with no experience in political office, Zuzana
Caputova could become the EU and eurozone member’s first female president.
Her rival in the run-off election is the ruling party’s candidate, EU energy
commissioner and career diplomat Maros Sefcovic.

Two recent opinion polls give at least 60 percent of the vote to Caputova,
who ran on a slogan of “Stand up to evil”, telling AFP that “People are
calling for change” in the central European country of 5.4 million.

She was among tens of thousands of anti-government protesters who rallied
last year after journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee were gunned down as he
was preparing to publish a story on alleged ties between Slovak politicians
and the Italian mafia.

Then prime minister Robert Fico was forced to resign but remains the
leader of the populist-left Smer-SD party and is a close ally of the current
premier.

Five people have been charged in the Kuciak case, including a millionaire
businessman with alleged ties to Smer-SD who is suspected of having ordered
the murders.

The European Parliament urged Slovakia on Thursday to continue to
investigate, “including any possible political links to the crimes.”

MEPs voiced “concern about the allegations of corruption, conflicts of
interest, impunity and revolving doors in Slovakia’s circles of power.”

The Smer-SD has backed Sefcovic, support that appears not to have served
him well, as the 52-year-old took just 19 percent of the vote in the first
round of the election compared with Caputova’s 40 percent.

The slain journalist’s brother is among voters who have ruled out Sefcovic
because of his ties to the political establishment.

“I will not vote for someone supported by oligarchs and their people who
have deprived me of my brother and sister-in-law,” Jozef Kuciak wrote on his
Facebook page earlier this week.

“I will definitely vote for Ms. Caputova.”

– Pro-democracy, pro-Europe –

Analysts compare the 45-year-old divorced mother of two to French
President Emmanuel Macron, an outsider who swept to power in 2017 on a
reformist agenda.

“A similar story unfolded during the last presidential election in France,
where the representative of the new political trend and a new political
movement prevailed,” analyst Aneta Vilagi told AFP.

MORE/SSS/0905 hrs

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SLOVAKIA-VOTE-2-LAST

But fellow analyst Juraj Marusiak cautioned that the comparison also came
with a darker side as “Caputova, like Macron, is a symbol of a very hazily
defined hope.”

“Their programmes were formulated within vague contours, so they can also
bring great disappointment,” he said.

Caputova’s campaign promises include environmental protection, better care
for the elderly and justice for all.

“I intend to actively initiate systematic changes that would deprive
prosecutors and the police of political influence,” Caputova told AFP.

Sefcovic for his part has promised greater social benefits for seniors and
young families, a stronger industrial policy and a revitalisation of the
country’s agricultural sector.

Outgoing President Andrej Kiska said he was pleased that “two democratic
and pro-European candidates have advanced to the run-off.”

“Believe me, this is something that many countries envy us for,” he added
in a televised address Wednesday.

Kiska has endorsed Caputova, while Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini implied
support for Sefcovic by calling for “an experienced president”.

– What the people want –

Teacher Edita Sladkova is backing Sefcovic for his know-how and work
abroad.

“Sefcovic is an educated man, fluent in three foreign languages. He is
broad-minded and erudite in all areas and a real diplomat,” the Bratislava
resident told AFP.

Pensioner Anna Kutisova is also on team Sefcovic.

“My heart tells me he is a good man and would be a good president. So he
has my full confidence,” said the 78-year-old from the western city of Nitra.

Gynaecologist Michal Lunicek however says “Sefcovic is linked to a party
that is absolutely unacceptable for me.”

“There are problems with the police and rule of law in the country. That
is what the next president will have to tackle,” the 52-year-old told AFP.

Caputova would also “have to fight Fico and this mafia,” added fellow
supporter Miroslava Slivkova, a resident of the central village of Hronska
Dubrava.

Though the office is largely ceremonial, the president ratifies
international treaties, appoints top judges and is commander-in-chief of the
armed forces. The head of state can also veto laws passed by parliament.

Polling stations open at 0600 GMT and close at 2100 GMT. Provisional
results are expected around midnight.

The new president will be sworn in on June 15.

BSS/AFP/SSS/0906 hrs