DR. Mahathir Mohamad was sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister late Thursday following his shock election victory over the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition that has run the country for six decades since independence from Britain.
The 92-year-old took the oath at the Southeast Asian nation’s royal palace at about 9pm local time in a ceremony with Malaysia’s monarch Sultan Muhammad V.
Dr. Mahathir’s appointment marks a historic moment for the country, which for the first time, will be run by the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition.
Earlier in the day, Dr. Mahathir had called for his immediate appointment following Pakatan Harapan’s victory at the May 9 polls.
Official results showed that Dr. Mahathir’s coalition won 113 seats, one more than the number required to rule. But it has not been formally registered as an alliance.
However, Dr. Mahathir said he had been assured of support from a raft of parties that would give his government 135 members of parliament.
The purported delay of Dr. Mahathir’s appointment earlier Thursday became the subject of widespread speculation, but the palace dismissed the allegations.
“His Majesty strongly supports and respects the democratic process and the wishes of his subjects,” the palace said in a statement earlier.
Hundreds of Malaysians were lined up on the road leading to the palace, waving party flags and cheering the nonagenarian Mahathir, according to Reuters.
Dr. Mahathir ruled Malaysia with an iron fist from 1981 to 2003 and now, with a second innings at the age of 92, has become the oldest elected leader in the world.
His alliance of four parties trounced the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was once Mahathir’s protege but became his most bitter rival.
Earlier on Thursday, Najib appeared to raise doubts that Mahathir would immediately take office because no single party had won a simple majority of seats in the 222-member parliament, and it would be up to the monarch to decide.
In jubilant mood and cracking jokes, Mahathir dismissed any doubts he would be prime minister. “I got up late, lots of people got up late,” he replied when asked why there was a delay in swearing him in, noting that the election result was only officially announced around 5 am.
Mahathir repeated a promise to repeal a goods and services tax (GST) introduced by Najib and review foreign investments, including major infrastructure projects that are part of China’s Belt and Road initiative.
Najib’s BN coalition won 79 seats, a collapse from the 133 it won in the 2013 election, which was itself the coalition’s worst poll performance ever at the time.
Few had expected Mahathir to prevail against a coalition that has long relied on the support of the country’s ethnic-Malay majority.
However, he joined hands with jailed political leader Anwar Ibrahim, his one-time deputy he famously fell out with in 1998, and together their alliance exploited public disenchantment over the cost of living and a multi-billion-dollar scandal 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 Dr. Mahathir at the news conference earlier today. Under an agreement with Mahathir, she is to be deputy prime minister.
Anwar was imprisoned, first by Dr. Mahathir on charges of corruption and sodomy. He was released in 2004 but jailed again by Najib in 2015.
Dr. Mahathir and Najib were once allies but they clashed over a scandal around 1Malaysia Development Berhad (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.
Dr. 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”.