LILONGWE, Malawi, April 6 (UPI) -- President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi died of a heart attack Friday, doctors and Cabinet members said. He was 78.
One physician who treated Mutharika said the president was clinically dead Thursday after he went into cardiac arrest, the BBC reported.
Mutharika's death could spark a constitutional crisis in the southeast African country, observers told the British broadcaster, because he and his vice president, Joyce Banda, had a falling out over succession issues in 2010 and she was forced out of his ruling Democratic People's Party. Mutharika's brother, Foreign Minister Peter Mutharika, was chosen instead of Banda to be the party's presidential candidate in the 2014 elections.
Doctors and Cabinet officials said Mutharika's body was taken to South Africa while officials determine the next steps.
Peter Mutharika had been acting as a stand-in for the president as needed during official occasions, officials said.
Bingu wa Mutharika rose to power in a 2004 election, forming the Democratic People's Party after accusing key members of his United Democratic Front of opposing his campaign against corruption.
After his re-election in 2009, critics said he became more authoritarian. Pressure for him to resign started to mount amid accusations of nepotism and economic mismanagement.
The criticism lead to a deterioration in relations with foreign aid donors, particularly Britain, the BBC said.
Mutharika expelled the British envoy to Malawi in 2011 after a leaked embassy cable quoted the diplomat as saying Mutharika did not like being criticized. Britain then expelled the Malawian envoy to London and cut direct aid in response.