The election of Zuzana Čaputová as Slovakia’s first female president was perceived with mixed feelings in other Visegrad countries – Hungary, Poland, and Czech Republic – all of which have adopted a sceptical stance toward the EU in recent years. The election of the liberal, pro-EU Čaputová, could shake things up.
Affecting the domestic debate: Analysts in Slovakia suggest that her biggest impact would most likely be in the domestic debate. The success of Čaputová could help new political forces compete with socialist SMER, which has dominated Slovak politics for the past decade and is now faced with corruption scandals as well as links to people charged with the murder of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova.
The next general election is in March 2019 and support for extremist parties remains high. “Čaputová will have the chance to convince the anti-establishment voter that she is a viable alternative to the current, corrupt political system. If she succeeds, Slovakia could become a beacon of democracy for the entire Visegrad region,” Slovak journalist Arpad Soltesz wrote on vsquare.org.
Awkward meeting in Prague: Czech president Miloš Zeman congratulated Čaputová and invited her to pay her first foreign visit to his presidential palace. Reman had openly backed her rival Maroš Šefčovič whom he met before the second round.
Erik Tabery, a prominent editor at Respekt Magazine, said the Slovakian decision had sent hope to the Czech Republic as well with regards to the ongoing clash of liberal and conservative values in the region. “Zuzana Čaputová recalls that the game is still open, nothing is given and it is necessary to try again and again. The struggle for the image of the world is not decided – and it will never end,” he wrote.
Poland’s delayed congrats: The Polish government congratulated Čaputová two days after she was elected. A Czech journalist for the Polish state television said Čaputová was “a liberal feminist”, which may explain the delayed reaction.
Ryszard Czarnecki, a conservative PiS MEP (ECR) regretted that “conservative and very pro-Poland” president Andrei Kiska didn’t decide to seek re-election, “we should respect the choice of Slovak people [Čaputová] who is an antipode to Kiska’s views”.
Hungary- a ‘Soros EU federalist’: In Budapest, the government narrative is that the EU divided between those who oppose migration and wish to preserve national sovereignty against those who want a United States of Europe.
Pro-government media depicted Čaputováas a ‘Soros’, pro-migration politician, who will continue Kiska’s federalist agenda. They did not mention that Hungarian minorities in Slovakia also voted for Čaputová. Opposition media perceived her victory as a silver lining against authoritarian populism in the region.