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Anti-corruption campaigner Zuzana Caputova will face off with the ruling party candidate in a presidential runoff. It's the first vote in Slovakia since the murder of reporter Jan Kuciak and anti-government protests.
Zuzana Caputova, a vocal government critic, has won the first round of Slovakia's presidential election.
With results from 99.4 percent of polling stations counted, the 45-year-old was in pole position with 40.5 percent of votes, far ahead of her strongest challenger, Maros Sefcovic.
Sefcovic, a 52-year-old career diplomat and European Commission vice president backed by the ruling Smer-Social Democracy party, had just 18.7 percent of the vote.
As no single candidate won a majority on Saturday, a runoff will be held between Caputova and Sefcovic on March 30.
Endorsed by outgoing President Andrej Kiska, who did not seek re-election, Caputova has promised to end what she calls the capture of the state "by people pulling strings from behind," while maintaining the course of Slovakia's foreign policy. If elected, Caputova would be the country's first female president.
It's the first vote held since the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee last February and the ensuing protests, which dealt a blow to the political establishment.
"I see a strong call for change in this election following the tragic events last spring and a very strong public reaction," Caputova told reporters as she cast her ballot in her hometown, Pezinok. "We stand on a crossroads between the loss and renewal of public trust, also in terms of Slovakia's foreign policy orientation."
Caputova was among tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets after the killings, which shocked the nation and raised fears about media freedom and political corruption.
Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, were shot to death in February 2018 just before he was due to publish a story on alleged ties between Slovak politicians and the Italian Mafia.
The double murder threw the country into turmoil, and demonstrations after their deaths were the largest anti-government protests in Slovakia since communist times.
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The central European country of 5.4 million people spent decades behind the Iron Curtain before joining the European Union, the eurozone and NATO.
Following the murders, then-Prime Minister Robert Fico was forced to resign. However, he is still the leader of the populist-left Smer-SD party and a close ally of current premier Peter Pellegrini.
Four people were charged with the killings. On Thursday, prosecutors said they had also charged multimillionaire businessman Marian Kocner with ordering the murder of Kuciak, who had been investigating his business activities at the time. It is thought that Kocner has ties to Smer-SD.
law/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)