Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika 'dead'

 
Bingu wa Mutharika (file photo) There have been growing protests against President Mutharika over the past year

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President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi has died, doctors and cabinet ministers have told the BBC, but the lack of a formal announcement is leading to widespread anxiety.

Mr Mutharika, 78, suffered a cardiac arrest on Thursday and state media say he was flown to South Africa for treatment.

There are fears that his death could lead to a power struggle.

Both the UK and US have called for the constitution to be respected

According to the constitution, the vice-president takes over if the head of state is incapacitated or dies in office.

But Vice-President Joyce Banda and Mr Mutharika fell out after a row over the succession in 2010, and she was expelled from the ruling Democratic People's Party (DPP).

Mr Mutharika's brother, Foreign Minister Peter Mutharika, was chosen instead of Ms Banda to be the DPP's presidential candidate in the 2014 elections.

Analysis

People are very, very anxious. Almost everyone in the country knows that the president is dead.

According to the Malawi constitution, the person who is in charge right now - the only person who can make lawful and binding conditions - is the vice-president.

Any person who assumes the powers of the president will be committing treason.

The Malawi Law Society will commit to make sure the vice-president takes up the position of the president. If it means going to court to get an order restraining an attempt by other people, we are ready to do that.

He has been standing in for the president when needed during official occasions. Ms Banda recently told the BBC she had not spoken to Bingu wa Mutharika for more than a year.

On Friday evening, Ms Banda told a news conference that she was waiting for word from South Africa about the president's condition.

The BBC's Raphael Tenthani in the main city, Blantyre, says ministers have been locked in non-stop talks about the situation.

The doctors and ministers say that Mr Mutharika's body was taken to South Africa while a decision is reached about what to do next.

Government sources have told the BBC that efforts to resuscitate President Mutharika after his cardiac arrest had failed and that he was "clinically dead" on Thursday.

'The laws are clear'

UK International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell is among international leaders calling for a transition in line with the constitution.

Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs at the State Department, said the US is "concerned about the delay in the transfer of power".

"We trust that the vice-president who is next in line will be sworn in shortly," he said in a statement.

The life of Bingu wa Mutharika

  • 1934: Born Ryson Webster Thom in southern district of Thyolo. Adopts current name in 1960s
  • 1964: Goes abroad to escape then President Hastings Banda's crackdown on political opponents
  • Trains as economist, works for international bodies, including World Bank
  • 2004: Elected president as candidate of UDF
  • 2005: Leaves UDF to form DPP
  • Praised for helping poor farmers by subsiding agricultural inputs
  • 2009: Re-elected for a second term
  • 2011: Faces growing calls for him to resign; UK cuts direct aid after Mr Mutharika expels its envoy

Malawi Law Society president John Makhwawa told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that people were very anxious because of the lack of official information.

He said that the vice-president should already have assumed powers and that anyone who attempted to govern in her place would be committing treason.

Former President Bakili Muluzi - a bitter rival to Mr Mutharika - has also called on the authorities to make an announcement.

"It's important that the government announces the condition of the president as soon as possible so that the nation is informed," he told journalists.

Mr Mutharika, a former World Bank economist, came to power in a 2004 election, after being backed by outgoing President Muluzi. Soon afterwards, Mr Mutharika left his United Democratic Front (UDF) to form the DPP, after accusing Mr Muluzi and other UDF leaders of opposing his campaign against corruption.

Since being re-elected with a large majority in 2009, critics allege he has demonstrated an increasingly authoritarian streak.

The president has been under mounting pressure to resign, amid accusations of nepotism and economic mismanagement.

The criticism has led to a souring in relations with major foreign aid donors, especially the United Kingdom.

Last year, Mr Mutharika expelled the UK High Commissioner, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, after a leaked embassy cable quoted the diplomat as saying that the president could not tolerate criticism.

The Malawian leader said he could not accept "insults" just because the UK was his country's largest aid donor.

In response, the UK expelled the Malawian envoy to London and cut direct aid.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an estimated 75% of the population living on less than $1 (60p) a day.

The country has suffered shortages of fuel and foreign currency since the UK and other donors cancelled aid.

 

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 49.

    This is an opportunity for Malawi to grasp the future and recognise the importance of human rights.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 45.

    Sadly, his second term revealed him to morphing into a tyrant like HKB - but destroying the country in ways that HKB avoided. I don't rejoice at his death and I feel for his family, but would rather he went than the entire country, and his pride *was* killing it. One hopes that we will see the return of the proper national flag, which had a meaning that the new monstrosity lacks.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 33.

    This situations can very quickly devolve into civil unrest. The best course of action would be to let the VP take over and the call an election immediately. I doubt this will happen, but we can expect there to be discontent from both sides regardless of the outcome.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 13.

    President Bingu wa Mutharika feuded with donors like the IMF. Public frustrations erupted into nationwide street protests in July; police shot 19 people dead. Last month a broad coalition of rights groups called on Mutharika to resign. Malawi suffered for decades under dictatorship of Kamuzu Banda. Any attempt to circumvent the constitution will meet with resistance.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 9.

    Very sad that Dr Mutharika is dead, never mind the inverted commas. He has helped Malawi from a net importer of food to a net exporter. Being a dictator was inevitable, basing on where he has come from with the country since his first election. However, the party apparatchiks should not twist the constitution, let the Hon Vice President take charge in this trying moments of Malawi's history.

 
 

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