Liberals in Slovakia Growing Stronger

Zuzana Čaputová by Ivodo // CC 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Zuzana Čaputová, the Vice Chairman of Progresivne Slovensko, a Slovak liberal party, is very likely to become the first female president in the history of the country. Her success is one of many signs that liberals in Slovakia are growing stronger again.

It was less than two years ago when Slovak businessman Ivo Štefunko established a new political party, Progresivne Slovensko. “Oh no, not another small party for city based intellectuals…”, thought many back than. However, less than a year from its first founding congress and the Slovak liberals have more successes under their belt than they could have dreamed of in their wildest dreams.

Not only is their support stable (at the level of app. 7.5% in national polls), but also, being an urban-voter-oriented party, they are surprisingly strong in the regions as well. They even managed to secure the positions of mayors in two biggest Slovak cities (Bratislava and Nitra) for their candidates in the 2018 regional elections.

And now, it is very likely that their Vice Chairman Zuzana Čaputová will become the first female president in the history of the country.

With only days remaining to the first round of the two-round direct presidential elections, Čaputová, polling 45-53%, is leaving the second strongest candidate Maroš Šeflovič (with support  at the level 17-22%), endorsed by the ruling SMER party, far behind.

Environmental Activist’s Fairy Tale

The success story of Čaputová sounds almost like a fairy tale. Just a few months ago, she was an obscure candidate polling around 10%. However, thanks to a very well targeted campaign, hard work, and undeniable personal charm she managed to skyrocket in the polls and has become a favorite of the election.

She describes herself as a political activist. For her long-term work in the NGO sector, she had won the international Goldman Environmental Prize. Being a lawyer, she has made the reform of Slovak jurisdiction one of her signature topics. Her election slogan is “Justice for Everyone.”

Čaputová makes a textbook example of a liberal candidate with all of their risks and benefits. She is strongly supporting the rights of the socially marginalized minorities, such as LGBT, Hungarians, and senior citizens. The leitmotif of her campaign is embracing the diversity.

Being openly the most pro-LGBT candidate in the race, Čaputová has become a target of disapproval of the Slovak Catholic Church. Archbishop Ján Orosch criticized her for her opinions and indirectly discouraged the public from voting for her. Meanwhile, he endorsed the SMER candidate, Maroš Šeflovič, as the defender of the “traditional values.”

Needless to say, the Slovak Catholic Church and the governmental SMER have always had close ties to one another.

Moreover, Čaputová has also managed to win the hearts of the Hungarian minority, which accounts for around 10% of a 5 million Slovak population. Even though she cannot speak the language, her team is posting messages in Hungarian on her official Facebook page.

Surprisingly, she managed to win the Hungarian support over a Most Hid candidate, a party representing Hungarian interests. This is, undoubtedly, a good sign, since it is usually the Hungarian votes which swing the election results.

Facebook in Focus

The Slovak presidential campaign is in line with the modern trends. Instead of paying tens of thousands of euros for billboards and flyers, the candidates invest the majority of their funds in the social media.

Čaputová paid EUR 37,000 for billboards and EUR 163,000 for online marketing.

Miloš Šeflovič went even further and spent 65% of his overall campaign budget on the social media.

Heavy flows of disinformation attacks have been heating up during the last days before the election. As it may have been expected, the strongest democratic candidate is always the main target of fabricated news.

Čaputová had to face the widest range of accusations of being paid by George Soros or illuminates, who supposedly intend to open the country to hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees.

Nevertheless, Čaputová and her team have decided to embrace an unusual strategy to counter these fake news. She is publishing all of them on her official profile with an explanatory comment. And, so far, judging by the polls, it seems that this strategy is paying off.

Adela Kleckova
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom