WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish conservative opposition party Law and Justice on Saturday named deputy leader Beata Szydlo as its candidate for prime minister after this year’s parliamentary election, which, according to opinion polls, the party is poised to win.
The party’s leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, announced he was stepping back from the role as would-be prime minister - a decision that could improve the party’s election chances as Kaczynski is a polarising figure.
“I decided to ask Law and Justice’s highest authorities to put Beata Szydlo’s candidacy forward for the prime minister post should we win,” Kaczynski told a party conference in Warsaw.
Earlier this year, Szydlo led the successful election campaign of president-elect Andrzej Duda.
“The (presidential) election showed that Poles are expecting new faces and expecting a generational change,” Kaczynski said, referring to a vote which saw Duda, 43, beat the 63-year-old incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski.
According to the latest poll results, Law and Justice is currently backed by 31 percent of voters, with the ruling Civic Platform party on 25 percent.
Addressing the party conference, Szydlo said that as prime minister she would work towards lowering the retirement age, raising the personal tax allowance and giving families child benefits.
These pledges formed the backbone of Duda’s presidential campaign, and their cost has been estimated at up to 300 billion zlotys ($81.5 billion).
Szydlo also said her potential government would address the so-called “junk contracts,” a popular form of flexible employment which offers little social and job security to employees, and reform the Polish health service to make it more accessible.
She also talked of rebuilding Poland’s heavy industry and protecting its mining sector. Prior to becoming a Law and Justice lawmaker, she was mayor of Brzeszcze, a coal mining town in southern Poland.
Szydlo also said Poland needed to be better at protecting its economic and cultural interests in the European Union.
A member of the Polish parliament since 2005, Szydlo studied ethnography at Poland’s oldest academic institution, the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. She became deputy leader of her party in 2010.
Kaczynski’s announcement marks the second time the leader has ruled himself out as candidate for prime minister ahead of a possible parliamentary victory.
Following the 2005 vote, Kaczynski, whose twin brother Lech became president the same year, appointed backbencher Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz as prime minister, partly to avoid a controversy of twin brothers filling two of Poland’s highest posts.
But Kaczynski took over after Marcinkiewicz resigned several months later, and some commentators suggest that Szydlo may well be a temporary stand-in, appointed as more palatable to swing voters ahead of the elections in the autumn.
Kaczynski’s government collapsed in 2007, triggering an election which brought the current ruling Civic Platform party to power. President Lech Kaczynski was killed in 2010, along with a number of other officials, in a plane crash in Russia.
“I know that some will say that I will be driven from the back seat,” Szydlo said, addressing Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
“Shame to waste time on such nonsense. I’ll say it straight: my name is Szydlo. Beata Szydlo.”
Writing by Wiktor Szary; Editing by Clelia Oziel