Update: Mahathir’s swearing-in ceremony at the King’s palace has been postponed to 9:30 p.m. from 5 p.m.
Malaysia’s opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan, led by 92 years old Mahathir Mohamad, has shocked the world by winning the first ever general election to end the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition’s 61 year hold on power.
The Malaysian people were anxiously anticipating the final results until late Wednesday night in front of national television and social media in what the locals have dubbed “the Malaysia Tsunami.”
Mahathir, a former prime minister of the country from 1981 to 2003, expects he will be sworn in as the new Prime Minister Thursday, after his PH won at least 112 seats, enough to form a simple majority and take power in Putrajaya, the administrative capital of Malaysia.
But on Thursday, outgoing Prime Minister Najib Razak was reported to be questioning Mahathir’s right to be sworn into office and was allegedly still offering candidates in the state of Sabah 20 million ringgit (US$6 million) brides to switch sides, reported The Guardian.
Najib, who had been prime minister since 2009, said he accepted “the verdict delivered by the people” but that no single party had achieved a simple majority of seats in the 222-member parliament.
“Therefore the king will be making a decision as to who will be the prime minister,” Najib said.
Mahathir replied by saying, “I want to emphasise that our coalition, Pakatan Harapan, has already won a clear majority and therefore we are invited to form a government. We stand by the rule of law and whatever we do must be governed by the constitution.”
Mahathir said the delay was caused by a lack of understanding of the constitution, and that “there is an urgency here, we need to form the government now, today,” Mahathir told a news conference on Thursday morning.
He said that according to the constitution, “the prime minister should have the support of the majority of the candidates of parliament, it does not say it should have the support of any one party.” Mahathir said that he had the support of 135 MPs, and that all parties in the coalition had signed a letter backing him as their choice for prime minister.
Polling on Wednesday, May 9, for Malaysia’s 14th general election saw thousands of enthusiastic voters queuing up patiently in the hot weather to cast their votes. But no one could have predicted that Malaysia would achieve the first ever change of government in six decades since independence from Britain.
Najib’s BN coalition won only 79 parliament seats compared to 133 seats in 2013, which was itself the coalition’s worst poll performance in its history.
When sworn in, Mahathir will break the world record and become the world’s oldest Prime Minister.
With a big smile on his face, Mahathir announced Wednesday night the victory by his coalition during the press conference. He declared May 10 and 11 to be public holidays for Malaysia in order to celebrate the historic victory.
“We are not seeking revenge. What we want to do is to restore the rule of law,” Mahathir said.
Few had expected Mahathir to prevail against a coalition that has long rallied on a message directed to gain the support of Malaysia’s ethnic-Malay majority.
However, he joined hands with jailed political leader Anwar Ibrahim, his one-time deputy he famously fell out within 1998, and together their alliance exploited public disenchantment over increasing costs of living and a multi-billion-dollar scandal involving the state-owned fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) that has dogged Najib since 2015.
“This election has proved to us that we moved beyond racial politics,” said Khoo Ying Hooi, a professor of international and strategic studies at the University of Malaya. “It’s really people power through the ballot.”
Mahathir said that one of his first actions would be to seek a royal pardon for Anwar. Before the poll, he had promised to step aside once Anwar was free and let him become prime minister.
His wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, was sitting next to Mahathir at the news conference. Under an agreement with Mahathir, she is to be deputy prime minister.
Anwar was imprisoned first by Mahathir on charges of corruption and sodomy. He was released in 2004 but jailed again by Najib in 2015.
Mahathir and Najib were once allies but they clashed over a scandal around 1MDB, a state fund from which billions of dollars were allegedly siphoned off.
The 1MDB affair is being investigated by at least six countries, although Najib has denied any wrongdoing and has been cleared by Malaysia’s attorney-general.
Mahathir had vowed to investigate the scandal if elected and bring missing funds back to Malaysia. On Thursday, he said that if Najib had done anything wrong he would “face the consequences.”
Renegotiating With China
Malaysia may renegotiate some deals with China, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Thursday.
Mahathir said that his government would likely reverse some policies implemented by the BN coalition, including a highly unpopular goods and services tax (GST).
The 92-year-old told a news conference he supported China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) but said Malaysia reserved the right to renegotiate terms of some agreements with Beijing if necessary.
“We have no problem with that (BRI) except, of course, we would not like to see too many warships in this area because (a) warship attracts other warships,” he said.
A Nomura report last month showed that Malaysia is one of the largest beneficiaries of Chinese state investment commitments in Asia, securing $34.2 billion of BRI-related infrastructure projects, which have prompted critics to accuse Najib of “selling” Malaysia to the Asian powerhouse.
Additional reporting by The Epoch Times writer James Chow