Slovakia's presidential candidate Caputova speaks after the first unofficial results at a party election headquarters in Bratislava
BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Anti-graft campaigner Zuzana Caputova could win 60.5 percent of votes in Slovakia's presidential election run-off, an opinion poll showed on Thursday, an outcome that would stand in contrast to the rise of populist, nationalist politicians across Europe.
Pro-European, liberal Caputova won the first round with 40.6 percent, decisively ahead of the candidate backed by the ruling Smer party, European Union commissioner Maros Sefcovic with 18.7 percent.
The run-off is set for March 30.
Caputova has campaigned to end what she calls the capture of the state "by people pulling strings from behind," a message resonating with younger, educated voters, according to polls.
The Median agency poll for public broadcaster RTVS, the first since Caputova's first-round victory on March 16, put Caputova at 60.5 percent and Sefcovic at 39.5 percent.
Corruption and change have been top themes in the election, coming a year after investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, who covered fraud cases involving politically connected businessman, and his fiancée were murdered at their home.
The killings, for which five people have been charged, sparked anti-government demonstrations that led long-time prime minister Robert Fico to resign, although his three-party government remains in place.
Voters, though, look set to punish Smer - the biggest parliamentary party since 2006 - with many still unhappy with efforts to rein in graft, which was on display last month when thousands rallied on the first anniversary of Kuciak's murder.
Anti-immigrant and far-right candidates failed to advance
in the first round. Analysts say that has helped Caputova as Sefcovic, mindful of his position in Brussels and with EU elections two months away, is unlikely to attack too hard.
"Sefcovic has refused to get dirty in the campaign and attack Caputova in a way that the anti-system candidates would," said political analyst Samuel Abraham, who heads the Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts.
He said only a failure of Caputova's voters to show up by taking her victory as a given due to polls could threaten that.
"She needs to mobilize her voters," he said.
Caputova, a 45-year-old lawyer, was previously best known for a long fight against an illegal landfill in her hometown.
Sefcovic, who is also pro-European, said he would seek to unite the divided country and has pitched his Christian values to court socially conservative voters, gaining backing from some in the church in the predominantly Catholic country of 5.4 million.
But on Thursday, Caputova was endorsed by the junior government party Most-Hid, which represents the country's ethic Hungarian minority. Outgoing President Andrej Kiska, who defeated Fico in the last presidential vote in 2014 by gaining 59.4 percent, has also backed Caputova.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova, Writing by Jason Hovet, Editing by Robin Pomeroy, William Maclean)