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Environmental activist elected as Slovakia's first female president

A liberal environmental activist has been elected as the first female president of Slovakia. Relative newcomer Zuzana Caputova had 58 percent of the vote with almost 95 percent of returns counted in Saturday's runoff election, topping European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, who had 42 percent.

Sefcovic conceded defeat and congratulated his rival.

"I'm extremely happy about the result," Caputova said. "It's an extremely strong mandate for me," she said.

"Zuzana, Zuzana," her supporters chanted.

Caputova, 45, has little experience in politics and attracted voters who are appalled by corruption and mainstream politics. 

Slovakia's presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova speaks after winning the presidential election, at her party's headquarters in Bratislava
Slovakia's presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova speaks after winning the presidential election, at her party's headquarters in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 30, 2019. RADOVAN STOKLASA / REUTERS

She only recently became vice chairman of the Progressive Slovakia, a party so new it has not had a chance to run in parliamentary elections. Caputova resigned from her party post after winning the first round of the presidential vote two weeks ago. 

She framed the election as a struggle between good and evil, BBC News reports.  

The election follows the murder of an investigative journalist last year. Caputova cited Jan Kuciak's death as one of the reasons she decided to run for president, which is a largely ceremonial role. Kuciak was looking into links between politicians and organised crime when he was shot alongside his fiancée in February 2018.

Caputova becomes Slovakia's fifth president since the country gained independence after the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993. 

The president of the nation of 5.4 million people has the power to pick the prime minister, appoint Constitutional Court judges and veto laws. Parliament can override the veto with a simple majority, however. The government, led by the prime minister, possesses most executive powers.

A lawyer by profession, Caputova is a rising star of Slovak politics. She became known for leading a successful fight against a toxic waste dump in her hometown of Pezinok, for which she received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2016.

A divorced mother of two, she is in favor of gay rights and opposes a ban on abortion in this conservative Roman Catholic country.

She was also part of a campaign in 2017 that led to the annulment of pardons granted by former authoritarian Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.

Sefcovic, 52, is a career diplomat who was supported by the leftist Smer-Social Democracy party led by former populist Prime Minister Robert Fico, a major force in Slovak politics that was tarnished by corruption scandals. He campaigned on a traditional family values ticket.

Popular incumbent Andrej Kiska, who did not stand for a second term, backed Caputova in the vote.

The two had supported the massive anti-government street protests last year triggered by the slayings of an investigative reporter and his fiancee that that led to the fall of Fico's coalition government. Investigators have linked Jan Kuciak's death to his work probing possible widespread government corruption.

Fico's party has already suffered losses in local elections in November - the first votes since the largest demonstrations in the country since the anti-Communist Velvet Revolution of 1989.