WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) -- The president of Vanuatu, Baldwin Lonsdale, has died of a heart attack, the Vanuatu Daily Post reported Saturday. He was 67.
Lonsdale, who sacked his government two years ago over a massive corruption scandal, passed away in the Pacific island nation’s capital of Port Vila.
“National Flag is at half-mast early this morning. His body is reportedly at the Vila Central Hospital,” the newspaper said.
|A filke photo taken on March 17, 2015, shows Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale speaking at a press conference after cyclone Pam ripped through the island nation. (AFP-Yonhap)|
Former Vanuatu MP Sela Molisa told Radio New Zealand that “Vanuatu has lost one of its greatest leaders.”
Lonsdale, a civil servant before becoming an Anglican priest, was elected to the presidency in 2014.
Although the role was considered largely ceremonial, Lonsdale became a symbol of hope for Vanuatu when Cyclone Pam caused severe damage in the country in early 2015.
Six months later he steered the country through a political crisis when half the government of Prime Minster Sato Kilman was convicted of corruption, making them ineligible for office.
After one of the convicted MPs, then-Speaker of Parliament Marcellino Pipite, pardoned himself and 13 colleagues in his capacity as acting president while Lonsdale was overseas, Lonsdale returned to dissolve parliament and call a snap election which saw Kilman’s government defeated.
“He was firm and wouldn’t be swayed,” Molisa said. “I’m sure the government and every other -- especially at the political level -- people would recognize that Vanuatu has lost a very outstanding leader.”