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article imagePoland's power twin and a coalminer's daughter

By Anna Maria Jakubek (AFP)     Oct 25, 2015 in Politics

Poland's conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, which won an outright majority in Sunday's general election according to an exit poll, is led by eurosceptic Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who has tapped Beata Szydlo, a relative unknown, for prime minister.

Following are portraits of the two:

JAROSLAW KACZYNSKI, 66, is the undisputed leader of PiS, which he co-founded with his identical twin brother Lech in 2001. He served as prime minister in 2006-7 while Lech was president. His sibling died aboard a presidential jet that crashed in Smolensk, western Russia, in 2010.

A master of political intrigue since he played a behind-the-scenes role in the Solidarity trade union's dismantling of communism in Poland in 1989, Kaczynski is a fiery orator and a polarising figure.

Idolised by fellow rightwingers, the diminutive Kaczynski gets under the skin of the pro-European centrists and leftists, with some now fearing a repeat of his hardline style of government.

The Kaczynskis' time in power was marked by political turmoil, triggered by their combative style and international tensions stoked by their anti-German and anti-Russian views and by a row with the EU over Poland's weighting in the bloc's decision-making.

Kaczynski's election campaign strategy capitalised on fears linked to Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II. He claimed refugees were bringing "cholera to the Greek islands, dysentery to Vienna, various types of parasites" -- comments that critics said recalled the Nazi era.

His position is that Warsaw should financially support EU efforts to tackle the crisis, but not take in refugees -- a view shared by nearly 60 percent of Poles, according to surveys.

A cat lover who never married, he lived with his mother, to whom he was very close, until her death in 2013.

He and his twin brother grabbed the limelight early with a short-lived stint on the silver screen as children. The pair starred in the popular 1962 Polish film "The Two Who Stole The Moon", about a couple of scheming urchins.

BEATA SZYDLO, 52, is a PiS loyalist. She steered a winning presidential campaign for political greenhorn Andrzej Duda, ousting Civic Platform ally Bronislaw Komorowski in May.

Szydlo is a coalminer's daughter with a degree in ethnography from the Jagiellonian University of Krakow. She got her start in politics as mayor of the southern town of Brzeszcze. In 2005, she became a member of parliament with Kaczynski's PiS.

As a lawmaker, she has defended conservative positions on issues such as abortion, in-vitro fertilisation and the 2011 Istanbul Convention -- the world's first legally-binding instrument to prevent and combat violence against women.

Szydlo hit the campaign trail ahead of the general election with gusto, crisscrossing the country and targeting voters with promises of lower taxes, higher welfare spending and more generous family benefits. She also pledged to lower the pension age and impose taxes on banks and foreign-owned hypermarkets.

Her promises target the core conservative electorate in the poorer, devoutly Catholic east and public sector workers.

An elegant dresser with short hair -- and a fleeting resemblance to German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- she is serious but always surrounded by a circle of enthusiastic young supporters. She is married with two sons, a medical student and a deacon.

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