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Malawi President Believed Dead, VP to Assume Position

AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP/Getty Images(LILONGWE, Malawi) -- A day after Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika went into cardiac arrest, there is still no confirmation of his reported death.

Several local and international media have reported on the 78-year-old leader’s death but the Malawian government has yet to confirm it. BBC News reports that state media said Mutharika was flown to South Africa.  

The southern African nation is facing an economic crisis after diplomatic relations soured with the United Kingdom, resulting in the halting of millions of pounds in aid. Malawi is one of the poorest nations in the world.

Mutharika, a former World Bank economist, was elected to the presidency in 2004 representing the United Democratic Front party, but left the party in 2005 to form the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). He was re-elected for a second term in 2009.

Vice President Joyce Banda, who was expelled from the DPP in 2010 and formed her own party, is poised to assume the presidency according to the constitution. However delay on information of Mutharika’s condition has led to questions about whether members of the ruling party will welcome Banda as the new president.

According to the constitution, Banda should have already assumed power since the president is incapacitated. Banda says she is waiting to hear from South Africa on Mutharika's condition.

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson extended the nation’s condolences but also addressed the issue of succession:

“Malawi's constitution lays out a clear path for succession and we expect it to be observed. 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.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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