Populist Polish politician found dead

Andrzej Lepper, who rose from pig farmer to deputy prime minister, is found hanged in his party office in Warsaw.

    To his supporters, Lepper was a daring advocate for the poor [Reuters]

    Andrzej Lepper, a Polish populist politician who rose from pig farmer to deputy prime minister of, has died aged 57 in what police suspect to be a suicide.

    The PAP news agency said Lepper had hanged himself and that his body was discovered by a family member.

    Lepper was briefly deputy prime minister in a coalition government but was later disgraced by bribery and sex scandals.

    His body was found in his party office in Warsaw on Friday afternoon, police said.

    "Everything indicates that he killed himself," Mariusz Sokolowski, a police spokesman, said.

    Police and prosecutors said they were waiting for the results of an autopsy before commenting further.

    Rafal Pankowski, an expert on Poland's radical right, said Lepper "symbolized the nationalist populism" of the 1990s and 2000s, a time of great social frustration and insecurity in the early years after communism.
    "He was associated with crude rhetoric and sometimes violent protest," Pankowski said.

    Lepper rose to prominence during the 1990s, when many Communist-era jobs had been lost, with unemployment stuck around 20 per cent, and the country not yet enjoying the economic boom that came with European Union membership in 2004.

    His outspoken manner won him the votes of the frustrated, and to his supporters he was a daring advocate for the poor.

    Courting controversy

    At one point, Lepper told his supporters that should he come to power, he would order the central bank to print huge quantities of cash to distribute to the poor.

    He also called for convicted pedophiles to be castrated without painkillers.

    Lepper lambasted government leaders, sometimes calling them thieves, and also organised protests by farmers who feared they would be swamped by outside competition with EU membership.

    In the early 1990s he formed a movement which in 2000 became a full-fledged party, Self Defence.

    The party became a junior partner in a conservative-nationalist government that held office from 2006 to 2007.

    He served as deputy prime minister and agriculture minister in that government, which was led for most of its short and shaky tenure by then-Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

    Though that government did not serve long, it did so at a crucial time - soon after Poland joined the EU - creating an impression in Brussels of a Poland constantly in the grip of political crisis.

    Political decline

    In the end, EU membership brought many economic benefits to Poland's farmers and to the rest of society, contributing to the decline of Lepper's political career.

    The Kaczynski-led government collapsed because of infighting between the three governing parties and after the prime minister dismissed Lepper over allegations that he had solicited bribes.

    Lepper's popularity also suffered greatly because of allegations of sex abuse and corruption but he always maintained that he was innocent.

    He was accused of soliciting sex from a woman who worked for his party and was convicted of those charges last year.

    In the country's last elections in 2007, his Self Defence party did not reach a five per cent threshold for entering parliament and largely disappeared from the political scene.

    Recent polls indicated the party had no chance of a comeback, putting its support at around one per cent before parliamentary elections scheduled for October 9.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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