Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika died following a heart attack on Thursday, according to government officials.
The state has yet to make an official announcement, although the president's ruling Democratic Progressive Party told news agencies on Friday that Mutharika had passed away and that an announcement would be made later.
“He died ... after two hours of resuscitation,” an unnamed official told AFP.
“The president died yesterday, and his body has been flown to South Africa for embalming, and for the process to be dignified, the official announcement will come later on,” the source added.
Mutharika's sudden death and the government's silence have led to confusion about who will take over as acting president. Former Malawian president Bakili Muluzi said on Friday that Vice President Joyce Banda is constitutionally mandated to take the job, adding that Banda's ascension is necessary to keep order, Malawi's Nyasa Times reported.
“This is not an issue of personalities or political parties but following what the constitution says,” said Muluzi. We have to avoid a situation where there is disorder. Let us follow the constitution. We have no choice now but to follow the constitution. It's important that there must be peace and calm.
Banda has been Mutharika's vice president since 2009, although she was expelled from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in 2010 for anti-party activities. Mutharika tried to fire her on a number of occasions, but was blocked by the constitutional court. If Banda became the next head of state, she would be Malawi's first female president.
If Mutharika had had a say, he likely would have chosen his brother Peter Mutharika to take his place. After falling out with Banda, the president began grooming his brother for leadership, giving him a number of cabinet positions including Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and finally Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Education, Science and Technology, which he currently holds.
Both Banda and Peter Mutharika had previously registered as candidates for Malawi's 2014 presidential elections.
So far, the state has released relatively few details about succession plans or Mutharika's death. It was speculated on Thursday that the president was immediately flown to Johannesburg, South Africa, for treatment after his heart attack, but local sources say that the president was taken to a small hospital in the capital city of Lilongwe, where he died immediately.
We know he is dead, and unfortunately he died at a local, poor hospital which he never cared about -- no drugs, no power, Chimwemwe Phiri, a Lilongwe businessman, told Reuters.
In his last year in power, Mutharika became an extremely unpopular figure in his home country. A period of economic growth came to a sudden and drastic halt after Mutharika started a row with the country's former colonial ruler, Great Britain, Malawi's largest aid donor. The spat was blamed for fuel shortages, unemployment and inflation, which in turn sparked anti-government protests last July. Approximately 20 people were killed after police and troops were sent to stop the demonstrations.