Polish Opposition Picks Szydlo as Women Vie for Premiership

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Beata Szydlo
Beata Szydlo speaks at a campaign press conference in Warsaw. Photographer: Adam Jagielak/Getty Images

Poland’s main opposition group proposed deputy leader Beata Szydlo as its candidate for prime minister after a surprise win in presidential elections put the party ahead in opinion polls to unseat Ewa Kopacz’s government.

The decision by Law & Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski to pick Szydlo, 52, marks the first time in Poland’s 26-year democracy that the two leading candidates for prime minister are both female. Szydlo ran President-Elect Andrzej Duda’s campaign, masterminding his win over incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski in May’s presidential voting.

Szydlo said on Saturday her priority, if elected, will be to reduce the retirement age and increase tax-free income and benefits for families. Poland’s WIG20 index has tumbled 8 percent since Duda’s victory, the third-worst showing among 103 primary equity gauges tracked by Bloomberg, amid fears Law & Justice will boost bank taxes if it wins a parliamentary election due in October.

“We must rebuild trust in our country,” Szydlo told a convention in Warsaw. “It’s time to end growth policies from the outgoing party that benefit about 10 percent of the people, and share the benefits equally.”

Law & Justice is backed by 31 percent of Poles, compared with 25 percent for Civic Platform, according to a June 11-17 survey of 1,011 adults by pollster CBOS.

Political Rebranding

“The presidential election showed Poles want new faces, a generational change,” said Kaczynski, 66, when announcing Szydlo’s new role to help attract more people to his party.

Szydlo’s candidacy is aimed at opening Law & Justice to more moderate voters and moves away from a bickering political style personified by Kaczynski’s stint as prime minister in 2006-2007, when he battled numerous “conspiracies” against his rule in the media, courts and business circles.

Law & Justice’s plan is to separate Szydlo and Duda from the image of Kaczynski, who surveys show is one of the country’s least trusted politicians, said political analyst Miroslaw Oczkos. “The question remains whether voters will buy this,” he told TVN24 television on Sunday.

‘Determined Woman’

Kaczynski was noticeably absent from Duda’s campaign, drawing accusations from the ruling camp that Law & Justice was hiding its true face. Responding to such calls, Szydlo said on Saturday: “I am a determined woman, my husband knows that best. I won’t let anyone steer me.”

Szydlo’s candidacy drew a sharp rebuke from Prime Minister Kopacz, who asked Kaczynski if he has indeed “abdicated” as party leader and calling him out for a debate.

“If you decide to send Beata Szydlo, of course I will debate with her,” Kopacz said. “If for some reason you can’t decide who should go, you can both come.”

Law & Justice is poised to unseat the ruling Civic Platform after its eight years in power, with Kopacz’s government reeling from an eavesdropping scandal and discontent over economic prospects.

Kopacz shuffled her cabinet this week and vowed to win back voters in the last four months of the parliamentary term, taking on some of the opposition’s spending promises. She told Poles at her party’s meeting on Saturday “not to be fooled” by those who say that “Poland is in ruins.”

“Everyone is talking about change -- Poland needs change, but it can’t be a change for the worse,” Kopacz said. “If someone wants to change everything, that’s a recipe for disaster.”

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