János Széky, Radio Lemberg, 17.03.2019
Political newcomer Zuzana Čaputová won a stunning victory in the first round of the Slovak presidential election. Although she did not get 50 percent of the votes, so a second round will be held, with 40.57% she is almost certain to defeat runner-up Maroš Šefčovič (18,66%). This is all the more remarkable because Čaputová is the candidate of a centrist liberal party called Progressive Slovakia, which was founded only in late 2017, and has no representatives yet in the National Council (parliament).
The main "populist" contenders, the boorish and politically corrupt former Minister of Justice Štefan Harabin, and Marian Kotleba, who is simplya pro-Kremlin neo-fascist thug, won c. 25 percent put together, but it is unlikely that many of these votes would go to Šefčovič in the second round. The latter, who is Vice-President of the European Commision, represents the Euro-Atlantic face of the main governing party Smer anyway. So it can be said with certainty that Slovakia is on the right track, there is no danger of an illiberal and Muscovite deviation.
Čaputová's success clearly shows that the Slovakian electorate wants change. Not much is known about her particular political views, however, apart from a kind of general liberalism, which includes the approval of children's adoption by same-sex couples, which was enough for Šefčovič, originally a Social Democrat, to defend "Christian values" against her. She achieved nationwide fame as an enviromentalist lawyer, stopping the opening of a new waste landfill in her home town of Pezinok.
"Change" in this case also means finding a way out of the political crisis that has plagued Slovakia since the early 2010s. The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union was heavily defeated in the 2012 elections, and totally collapsed by 2016 (it was this party, which, with various coalition partners, had guided the country through exemplary market-oriented reforms, in which the main figure was Ivan Mikloš — Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, who later became a chief adviser to President Poroshenko of Ukraine).
Meanwhile, an astute political technician called Robert Fico, leader of Smer party (Direction – Social Democracy) emerged as the most powerful figure in Slovakian politics. On the one hand he was reasonable enough not to squander all of the reformers' achievements (though GDP growth was much slower pace than before the depression) and not to challenge the most important EU and NATO policies (in late 2014, when Hungary stopped reverse gas transit to Ukraine, Miroslav Lajčák — Slovak Minister of Foreign Affairs, would not hear of it, and said, "We can't let them freeze"). On the other hand, he established a classical mafia state in Slovakia.
The latter development culminated in February 2018, when a young investigative journalist called Jan Kuciak and his financée were murdered. A huge wave of protests followed, and the unimaginable happened – Fico and his right hand, Robert Kaliňák — the much-hated Minister of the Interior, resigned. Last week Marián Kočner — an underworld enterpreneur, was arrested for ordering Kuciak's murder – he was a neighbor of Fico's in a luxury apartment complex, built by another shady businessman well connected to Smer, who is now in prison.
At the moment, the senior government party Smer is in unstoppable decline; its coalition partners are also in crisis; the parliamentary opposition is fragmented and includes some really lightweight figures; the classical centre-right has almost disappeared. But the Slovak political community as a whole is healthy, with an urban middle class that has had enough of the mafia state; and the democratic institutional system allows self-correction.