Polish populist Andrzej Lepper found dead at 57

Andrzej Lepper has died in what police suspected to be a suicide. He was 57.

Warsaw: Andrzej Lepper, a pig farmer-turned-firebrand populist who was briefly deputy prime minister in a shaky government and who was later disgraced by bribery and sex scandals, has died in what police suspected to be a suicide. He was 57.

Lepper`s body was found in his party office in Warsaw on Friday afternoon, police said. "Everything indicates that he killed himself," police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said.

The news agency PAP said it learned that Lepper had hanged himself and that his body was discovered by a family member, but it did not disclose its source for the information. Police and prosecutors said they were waiting for the results of an autopsy before commenting further.

Lepper "symbolised the nationalist populism" of the 1990s and 2000s, a time of great social frustration and insecurity in the early years after communism, said Rafal Pankowski, a leading expert on Poland`s radical right.

"He was associated with crude rhetoric and sometimes violent protest," he said.

Lepper rose to prominence during the 1990s, when many communist-era jobs had been lost, with unemployment stuck around 20 percent, 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.

But he was always controversial.

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 paedophiles to be castrated without painkillers.

He lambasted government leaders, sometimes calling them thieves. He 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. It 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.

In the end, EU membership brought many economic benefits to Poland`s farmers and to the rest of society, contributing to the decline of his political career. His popularity suffered greatly also because of allegations against him of sex abuse and corruption. He always maintained that he was innocent.

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

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

In the last elections, in 2007, his Self-Defence party did not reach a 5-percent threshold for entering parliament and largely disappeared from the political scene. Recent polls indicated the party had no chance for a comeback, putting its support at around one percent before Parliamentary Elections scheduled for October 09.

Bureau Report

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