Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika has died after suffering a heart attack, medical sources have told Al Jazeera, although his death has not been officially announced.
The 78-year-old was rushed to hospital in the capital Lilongwe after collapsing on Thursday morning , and state media subsequently reported that he had been flown to South Africa for emergency treatment.
The Reuters news agency described chaotic scenes at the hospital as Mutharika’s wife, Calista, and senior cabinet ministers left the building, amid concerns that the president’s death could prompt political upheaval.
The constitution makes clear that Joyce Banda, Mutharika’s vice president, is first in line to take over as head of state in the southern African nation, although Banda’s expulsion from the ruling party in 2010 could complicate the transition.
Such a situation would appear to put her on a collision with Mutharika’s inner circle, including Peter Mutharika, the country’s foreign minister and the president’s brother who was groomed to take over.
Police on Thursday were deployed across the country’s capital, while 15 army officers took up positions around Banda’s residence, witnesses said.