Condolences poured in following the announcement of the death of Tanzania’s President John Magufuli, while an opposition leader called for the immediate swearing-in of his deputy to avoid a constitutional vacuum after two weeks of uncertainty around the health of the country’s leadership.
Vice President, Samia Suluhu Hassan addressed the nation on state television late on Wednesday, saying Magufuli had died from the heart disease that had plagued him for a decade. She said burial arrangements were under way for the 61-year-old leader but did not indicate when she would be sworn in.
“The VP has to be sworn in immediately,” opposition leader Zitto Kabwe told Reuters by phone on Thursday morning.
“The constitution doesn’t allow a vacuum, once it was official that the president has died, the next step was for the vice president to be sworn in.”
According to Tanzania’s Constitution, Vice President Hassan, 61, should assume the presidency for the remainder of the five-year term that Magufuli began serving last year after winning a second term. She would be the East African nation’s first female president and the only female currently holding executive power in the region.
Government spokesman Hassan Abbasi did not respond to calls and texts seeking comment on succession plans.
Magufuli had not been seen in public since Feb. 27, sparking rumours he had contracted COVID-19. On March 12, officials denied he had fallen ill and on Monday the vice president urged Tanzanians not to listen to rumours from outside the country, saying it was normal for a person to be checked for the flu or fever.
Nicknamed “The Bulldozer” because of his reputation for pushing through policies despite opposition, Magufuli drew international criticism for his unorthodox and increasingly authoritarian tactics.