Anti-graft campaigner set to win pole position in Slovakia presidential vote
* Voters appear to spurn ruling Smer party
* Caputova sees "strong call for change"
* Contest comes a year after journalist's murder
* Killing sparked big anti-government protests
(Adds most polls close)
By Tatiana Jancarikova
BRATISLAVA, March 16 (Reuters) - An anti-corruption
campaigner with no previous experience of public office is set
to take the pole position for round two of Slovakia's
presidential election as voters spurn the ruling Smer party one
year after the murder of a journalist sparked mass protests.
The killing of Jan Kuciak, who reported on fraud cases
involving politically connected businessmen, triggered the
biggest anti-government protests in Slovakia since communism
ended three decades earlier. It also led to the resignation of
then prime minister, Smer leader Robert Fico.
Fico's government remains in power, but Smer's popularity
has slumped. On the first anniversary of Kuciak's murder,
thousands of Slovaks rallied to protest against what they see as
a lack of government action on the corruption he uncovered.
Most polling stations across the European Union and NATO
member country of 5.4 million people closed at 10 p.m. local
time (2100 GMT) with first results expected around midnight. The
two best performing candidates will face a run-off on March 30.
Some stations remained open due to minor incidents, which
should not have major impact on the vote.
Polls done before a two-week blackout period showed the
Smer-backed candidate, EU commissioner Maros Sefcovic, trailing
far behind political newcomer and lawyer Zuzana Caputova, whose
endorsement by the protest movement has catapulted her to
frontrunner position with support at more than 50 percent.
If elected, the 45-year-old Caputova, a pro-European liberal
who belongs to the small, non-parliamentary Progressive Slovakia
party, will stand out among the populist nationalist politicians
on the rise across much of Europe.
"I see a strong call for change in this election following
the tragic events last spring and a very strong public
reaction," Caputova told reporters as she cast vote in her home
town Pezinok. "We stand on a crossroads between the loss and
renewal of public trust, also in terms of Slovakia's foreign
The president does not wield day-to-day power but has veto
power over the appointments of senior prosecutors and judges,
pivotal in that fight.
The murder of Kuciak and his fiancee, who was shot dead
alongside him, is still under investigation. The biggest
breakthrough to date came just two days before the vote, when
special prosecutors said they had charged businessman Marian
Kocner, a subject of Kuciak's reporting with connections across
the political scene including with Smer, with ordering the
"Caputova has a history of fighting for the common people as
a public-interest lawyer and brings much-needed
non-confrontational style and liberal values to the public
debate," Ivan Musak, 52, told Reuters in Bratislava.
Peter, a 69-year old pensioner who declined to give his full
name, was concerned about her lack of political experience.
"Sefcovic is an experienced diplomat, he would be more
capable of representing the country," he said. "But I voted for
him despite the Smer backing, not because of it."
The last AKO agency poll before the vote published on March
1, showed support for Caputova at 52.9 percent and Sefcovic at
Supreme court judge and former justice minister Stefan
Harabin, an independent, got 11.4 percent. He promises to fight
immigration and dismantle EU sanctions against Russia.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Jason Hovet,
Raissa Kasolowsky, Mark Potter, William Maclean)
First Published: 2019-03-16 01:00:00
Updated 2019-03-16 23:49:56
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