UPDATE: The New York Times is reporting that Malawi’s vice president, Joyce Banda, was sworn in as president on Saturday, ending a tense 36 hours of speculation and confusion about the future of one of central Africa’s most enduring democracies after the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika on Thursday.
UPDATE: government broadcaster MBC officially declared his death in the past hour. The Office of the President and Cabinet has also stated that the constitution will be followed with respect to succession (H/T dada Kim Yi Dionne over at Haba na Haba).
The passing on of President Mutharika in Malawi raises important (and interesting) constitutional questions surrounding the issue of succession. The constitution says that the Vice President should take over in the case the president is dead or incapacitated. This means that Ms Joyce Banda is entitled to the presidency.
But Ms Banda fell out with President Mutharika in 2010 and has since been kicked out of the ruling party. Mutharika then imposed his brother (legal academic Peter Mutharika) on the ruling party and declared him the party’s candidate in the 2014 election. The younger Mutharika has been the one stepping in for the president instead of the VP. As a result the delay in declaring the death of Mutharika in Malawi has been rumored to be because the cronies of the president are looking for ways to deny Ms Banda automatic ascendancy to the presidency, and a head start in the upcoming presidential race.
So will Ms Banda be able to ascend to the presidency? My answer is Yes. And I have two reasons.
First, the fact that Mutharika could not fire Banda is evidence that the idea of an intra-family succession was not completely accepted by the Malawian political elite, including those from the president’s own DPP. The president’s party got 59% of the vote in the 2009 legislative elections and could have easily engineered a vote of no confidence (impeachment) against the VP or a constitutional amendment to deny the VP automatic succession (Mutharika and/or his brother should have acted on the inside information on his health situation).
Second, the DPP is more divided than Mutharika’s almost auto-coup led on. For instance, part of the reason why the constitutional route was not taken to fix Ms Banda is because the speaker of Parliament, Hon. Henry Chimunthu Banda (no relation to Ms Banda) has ambitions for the presidency.
The government of Malawi has not officially declared Mutharika dead yet. But when they do I suspect that Ms Banda is most likely to ascend to the presidency.
H/T Lonjezo Hamisi.