Malawi declares 10 days of mourning after confirming president’s death

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By Faith Karimi, CNN
April 7, 2012 — Updated 1039 GMT (1839 HKT)
President leaves Malawi in ruin

 

(CNN) — Malawi declared 10 days of national mourning Saturday following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika as citizens of the southern African country awaited official word on who will succeed him.

State media confirmed the president’s death two days after he succumbed to a heart attack.

Soon after the announcement, broadcast stations started playing solemn religious songs as mandated by the government.

Mutharika, 78, got sick at the state house in the capital of Lilongwe on Thursday, and was transported to a hospital in South Africa, where he was pronounced dead.

The delay in a formal announcement sparked chaotic politics and fears of a constitutional crisis.

Under the constitution, Vice President Joyce Banda is in line to take over as head of state.

However, Banda was expelled from the ruling party in 2010 in a dispute with the president over his efforts to groom his brother as his eventual successor.

Banda formed her own party, but remained vice president.

A government spokeswoman on Friday declared Banda is not qualified to take over as the head of state.

“The conduct of the honorable Joyce Banda in forming her own opposition party precludes her from being eligible to succeed the presidency,” said Patricia Kaliati, who serves as information and civic education minister.

Before the formal announcement on the president’s death, Banda said she was kept “in the dark” on his condition. She urged Malawians to adhere to the constitution regarding succession.

The international community has urged the nation to observe the succession process in the constitution.

“We are 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,” said Johnnie Carson, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

Nigerian president , Goodluck Jonathan, also urged the nation to ensure an orderly transfer of power in keeping with the constitution ahead of elections scheduled for 2014.

Mutharika, a former World Bank economist who studied in the United States and other countries, was elected president in 2004 after campaigning as an “economic engineer.” He won re-election five years later for a term scheduled to end in 2014.

His initial years in office were considered a success as he focused on battling corruption and working to improve the economy.

He implemented a subsidy program for agricultural products that was credited with boosting the economy of the largely agrarian nation. Malawians welcomed his focus on reducing reliance on food aid and attaining self-sufficiency.

However, his popularity plunged in recent years as the economy faltered and the nation faced chronic fuel shortages and frequent power blackouts.

Anti-government groups accused Mutharika of dragging Malawi back into a dictatorship, citing the passage of bills they say infringe on citizen rights.

Protesters took to the streets last year demanding immediate government action to address the economic plight. Security forces cracked down, leading to more than a dozen deaths and sparking international condemnation.

Critics also accused Mutharika of jeopardizing international relations and risking foreign aid that benefits the nation’s poor.

Last year, Mutharika expelled a British envoy who was quoted criticizing him in a leaked diplomatic cable, straining relations with one of Malawi’s largest foreign donors. In return, Britain asked Malawi’s top envoy to leave the country and rescinded her invitation to the royal wedding. The nations have since restored diplomatic ties.

The United States announced last month that it was suspending $350 million allocated to Malawi because of concerns about its democratic governance.

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