Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lepper leaps back into limelight

From: NPE
Andrzej Lepper found himself back in the running for the job of president of Poland after the election committee reversed a decision barring the controversial politician from the race owing to his criminal record.

The National Election Committee (NEC), which is overseeing the organisation of the presidential election, ruled that Mr Lepper was free to take part in the vote, due to take place on July 4. This overturned its ruling made just 24 hours earlier which had ordered the politician’s removal from the list of candidates because of a slander conviction dating back to 2005.

Explaining the move, an apologetic Stefan Jaworski, the committee’s president, said that as Mr Lepper was waiting for his appeal against the conviction to be heard he was free to take part in the election. The NEC, he added, had been unaware of Mr Lepper’s appeal owing to incomplete records.

The about-face got an enthusiastic reception from Mr Lepper, a former farmer and deputy prime minister who leads the Self Defence party.

“I have no claim against the NEC,” said the Self Defence leader at a press conference in Warsaw. “I forgive the NEC for what it did yesterday.”

In his opinion, “the error was due to the fact that there are inaccuracies in the National Criminal Register”, and so he had no just reason to admonish the NEC.

The fiasco prompted the justice ministry to order improvements in the vetting procedures and to make sure the ministry’s database contained the latest information.

But although Mr Lepper can now rejoin the tussle for the country’s top job, the saga could return the glare of public attention to a past punctuated by clashes with the forces of law and order.

In February, the ex-farmer received a 27-month prison sentence after a court found him guilty of soliciting sexual favours from a party employee. Mr Lepper has also lodged an appeal against that conviction, which allowed him to enter the election race.

He has also faced numerous criminal charges in the past, including assault and criminal damage.

With his past back on the agenda, Mr Lepper’s already slim chances of having any significant impact on the election appear to be evaporating. Despite managing to come third in the last presidential election with a respectable 15 per cent, opinion polls now rate his popularity in single figures.