MALAWI’S Vice-President Joyce Banda has been sworn in as president following the death of Bingu wa Mutharika.
She became southern Africa’s first female head of state after taking the oath before parliament in the Malawian capital, Lilongwe.
Ms Banda, who had been vice-president since 2009, was cheered and applauded before, during and after the ceremony.
Mr Mutharika, 78, went into cardiac arrest on Thursday, although his death was not confirmed until yesterday.
The delay in announcing his death had prompted fears of a power struggle.
There had been speculation that the late president’s inner circle was trying to circumvent Malawi’s constitution to prevent Ms Banda from taking over and instead install his brother, Foreign Minister Peter Mutharika.
Ms Banda had fallen out with Mr Mutharika in 2010 and became one of his fiercest critics.
She was expelled from the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP) and formed the People’s Party.
She was elected as vice-president in 2009 and Mr Mutharika had failed in his attempts to have her removed from her post.
At present, there are just a handful of MPs in her party but according to BBC report many more are likely to join now that she is president.
On Friday, Information Minister Patricia Kaliati had said Ms Banda could not take over as head of state because she had gone into opposition.
The UK, the US and the EU have called on Malawi to respect the constitution.
Since the government officially confirmed Mr Mutharika’s death, Ms Banda has insisted the constitution would be followed in the matter of succession.
“What is going on is that the constitution says when there is a vacancy in the office of the president, the vice-president shall assume office and finish the term,” she told the BBC.
“When that happens, the vice-president assumes office. We are now, today, going through the process.”
She said she had met the heads of the army and police, the attorney general and other officials before giving a news conference on the situation.
Those officials were behind her as she spoke, saying a cabinet meeting would be held soon to discuss funeral arrangements.
She also said preparations were being made to bring Mr Mutharika’s body back from South Africa, where he was taken after his cardiac arrest.
“In the meantime, I call upon all Malawians to remain calm and to keep the peace during this time of bereavement.”
She said that 10 days of national mourning would be held.
Mr Mutharika governed Malawi for eight years, but was recently accused of mismanaging the economy and becoming increasingly autocratic.
He fell out last year with former colonial ruler Britain, which withdrew its direct aid, accusing the Malawian government of mishandling the economy and of failing to uphold human rights.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an estimated 75 percent of the population living on less than $1 a day.
The country has suffered shortages of fuel and foreign currency since the UK and other donors cancelled aid.