Upstart liberal activist elected Slovakia’s 1st female president
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Upstart liberal activist elected Slovakia’s 1st female president

Zuzana Caputova, 45, had led an environmental campaign, backs gay rights and access to abortion in the conservative Catholic nation

Presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova receives flowers and is congratulated by supporters at her headquarters in Bratislava, Slovakia on March 30, 2019 after taking a big lead in the presidential elections. - Vocal government critic and anti-corruption activist Zuzana Caputova appeared set to become Slovakia's first female president after partial results showed her winning the run-off election of March 30, 2019. Environmental lawyer Caputova got 58.07 percent of the ballot after results from 51 percent of polling stations were counted, while EU energy commissioner Maros Sefcovic garnered 41.92, the Slovak Statistics Office said. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
Presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova receives flowers and is congratulated by supporters at her headquarters in Bratislava, Slovakia on March 30, 2019 after taking a big lead in the presidential elections. - Vocal government critic and anti-corruption activist Zuzana Caputova appeared set to become Slovakia's first female president after partial results showed her winning the run-off election of March 30, 2019. Environmental lawyer Caputova got 58.07 percent of the ballot after results from 51 percent of polling stations were counted, while EU energy commissioner Maros Sefcovic garnered 41.92, the Slovak Statistics Office said. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — 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% of returns counted in Saturday’s runoff election, topping European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, who had 42%.

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.

Supporters of presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova celebrate following results from exit polls at the candidate’s headquarters in Bratislava, Slovakia on March 30, 2019. (Joe Klamar/AFP)

“Zuzana, Zuzana,” her supporters chanted.

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

She only recently became vice chairman of 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 becomes Slovakia’s fifth president since the country gained independence after the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993.

Presidential candidate Maros Sefcovic makes a statement after losing in the second round of presidential elections in Bratislava, Slovakia, on March 30, 2019. (Vladimir Simicek/AFP)

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.

Presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova delivers a speech after winning the Slovak presidential elections at her headquarters in Bratislava, Slovakia, on March 30, 2019. (Joe Klamar/AFP)

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 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 anti-government demonstrations, which were themselves largest protests seen in the country since the anti-Communist Velvet Revolution of 1989.

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