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Jun 11, 2024, 10:19am EDT
africa

Malawi mourns vice president’s death in a plane crash

Reuters TV/Eldson Chagara
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The News

Malawi is mourning the death of its vice president in a plane crash. Saulos Chilima, who was expected to contest next year’s presidential election, was leader of the United Transformation Party that is an alliance partner of the president’s party.

His death could destabilize the presidency by stirring differences among political parties.

The 51-year-old was poised to stand as the next candidate for the alliance that swept President Lazarus Chakwera and him to power in 2020. Chilima, outlining his planned candidacy, cited the terms of their alliance agreement although there were disputes about the existence of such a clause in their agreement.

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Chilima had been traveling to the northern city of Mzuzu, along with nine others, to attend the burial of a former cabinet minister.

The plane was reported missing on Monday, prompting a search. The wreckage was discovered on Tuesday in a mountainous forest in the north of the country.

Malawi’s president, in a statement, confirmed that all passengers on board had been killed in the crash. Chakwera said he was deeply saddened by “what has turned out to be a tragedy.”

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Chilima came third during annulled elections in 2019 and formed an alliance with Chakwera’s party in the 2020 rerun.

Malawi’s constitution states a vacancy in the role of vice president must be filled for the unexpired period of that term by a person appointed by the president — a pivotal decision that could highlight divisions along party lines.

Chilima’s sudden death while in office echoes that of former president Bingu Mutharika who died in 2012 following a heart attack. That prompted leadership wrangles which led to the arrest of prominent government officials before then vice president Joyce Banda assumed the presidency.

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A new vice president must be appointed within the next seven days.

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