Unconfirmed reports say Pres Bingu wa Mutharika who suffered a heart attack Thursday is dead
BLANTYRE--In the event that ailing Pres Bingu wa Mutharika dies, Vice President Joyce Banda, despite being booted out of the ruling DPP, would take over as President, according to the constitution.
"Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the President, the First Vice President shall assume that office for the remainder of the term and shall appoint another person to serve as First Vice President for the remainder of the term," section 83 (4) of the constitution states.
Banda and Mutharika run on a joint powerful ticket in 2009, but she fell out of favour with the President in December 2010 after she was accused of running parallel structures.
Banda went ahead to establish her own People's Party.
It’s unclear whether the Banda and Mutharika sour relations would create a constitutional crisis. Since their falling out, it's Mutharika's brother and foreign minister Peter - endorsed by the ruling party as its presidential candidate in the 2014 elections - and corps of the president's advisers who take charge when Mutharika is away.
Would the inner circle led by Peter accept to have Banda take over for the remainder of Bingu’s term?
Mutharika’s illness comes at a time the country is experiencing the worst economic crisis since independence from Great Britain in 1964.
The landlocked country has dollar and fuel shortages, incessant power outages and a runaway cost of living.
Viewed as a dictator, Malawians blame Mutharika for their suffering, saying he had strained the country’s relations with donors who cut off their financial assistance. Donors used to provide up to 40 percent of Malawi’s budget.
After coming to power in 2004, Mutharika was applauded as a good steward of the economy. Supported by international aid, he vowed to end hunger and introduced an expensive input subsidy program for farmers that led to bumper yields. Many believed that his efforts would put a dent in poverty in a country where the majority of people live on less than a dollar a day.
But after winning reelection by overwhelming numbers in 2009, Mutharika changed. He started enacting laws which critics said were designed to keep a tight grip on power. He brooked no criticism and went after his perceived enemies and more than once ordered his party’s foot soldiers – Youth Cadets - to defend him and beat up his critics.
Last year, despite warnings of “consequences” Mutharika expelled British envoy to Malawi Fergus Cochrane-Dyet after he had described the president, in a leaked memo to his superiors in London, as an autocrat. In retaliation, the former colonial ruler threw out Malawi’s representative to London.
Not long after that, Britain tightened the economic noose around Malawi's neck by cutting off budget support.
Growing disconnect with Mutharika’s leadership led to anti-government protests in July which left 19 people dead after police opened fire.
The United States registered its disapproval of the government's violent crackdown by suspending its $350 million Compact for the energy sector.
While caught between a rock and a hard place, global lender International Monetary Fund pressed Malawi to devalue its currency in a bid to help the economy but the Malawi leader refused, saying doing so would hurt the poor.
Mutharika has resisted calls to step down and often accuses donors, the opposition and organisers of last year’s demonstrations - civil society organisations – of working together to overthrow his government.
The president must have known that his popularity had eroded. Last month, he said he knew there were many who didn’t wish him well.
“I am not going to die because someone wants to me to die,” Mutharika, 78, told a group of religious leaders at the State House. “It’s only God who knows when I was born and when I will die.”
---©2012 The Maravi Post. Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgment