Slovaks vote for change amid concern over corruption

A woman who took part in street protests in Bratislava seeking justice for a journalist murdered along with his fiancée last year may emerge as Slovakia’s first female president as election for the ceremonial post got underway on Saturday.

Opinions polls gave Zuzana Caputova, 45, above, an environmental lawyer and deputy head of the non-parliamentary Progressive Slovakia party, a clear lead over Maros Sefcovic of the ruling Smer-SD party.

Caputova’s party is scenting victory after prosecutors this week charged a top businessman, Marian Kocner, allegedly linked to Smer-SD party with ordering the murder of Jan Kuciak who had been investigating his business activities.

The murders of Kuciak and his girlfriend Marina Kusnirova, both 27, in his home in Velka Maca, 65 kilometres east of the capital Bratislava raised concerns about media freedom and political corruption.

Soon after the twin murders, police detained several Italian businessmen mentioned in the notes Kuciak who had been investigating a mafia operating in eastern Slovakia.

Smer-SD party dismissed the opinion polls by arguing that Sefcovic, 52, vice-president of European Commission, appeals to more voters as the economy has grown under his rule.

However, voters opposing corruption and nepotism are likely to back Caputova who is seen as a courageous and open-minded woman not corrupted by politics.

If no candidate emerges as a clear winner, a run-off vote is expected on March 30 between the two candidates with the most votes.

Caputova said from a polling station in Pezinok city that Slovakia is struggling to regain public’s trust after rampant corruption and the journalist’s murder.

Although prime minister of the time Robert Fico was forced to quit over the twin murders, he is still close to the leaders in power.

Outgoing President Andrej Kiska urged politicians to fight for a decent and fair Slovakia.