Malaysia on Thursday woke up to the prospect of a seismic shift in its politics after the general election defeat of the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition helmed by Prime Minister Najib Razak.
In its place, the Pakatan Harapan bloc led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad won a simple majority in parliament as it emerged victorious in 122 out of 222 seats, enough to form the next government.
MAHATHIR SWORN IN
Mahathir has been sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister.
Lawrence Loh, a governance expert at the National University of Singapore, said the immediate priority for Mahathir was to “instil, in fact, restore confidence in national governance”.
“It is clear that the accumulated misgivings over the years have tilted the balance inordinately as seen in the ballot box,” Loh said.
He added: “With the expected extreme volatility in the financial markets, achieving political stability quickly will allay the fear of unpredictable changes, especially among the international investors.”
KING REFUTES ALLEGATIONS OF DELAYING TACTICS
In a press statement released before the swearing-in ceremony for Mahathir Mohamad was to begin, the National Palace refuted allegations that King Muhammad V was intentionally blocking Mahathir from being appointed premier.
“His Majesty the king strongly supports and respects the democratic process and the wishes of his subjects,” the statement said.
“His Majesty looks forward to working with Tun Dr Mahathir and his administration for the betterment of our nation and all its people,” the statement said.
Mahathir’s swearing in at 9.30pm will be broadcast live on state television. Some social media users earlier speculated that the monarch may be having second thoughts about appointing the veteran politician as the country’s next premier.
Under the constitution the king is obliged to appoint as prime minister the leader of the biggest political party or coalition following a general election.
SWEARING IN POSTPONED
Mahathir arrived at the National Palace at 4.40pm for a swearing-in ceremony scheduled to begin at 5pm, but as of 7.30pm, he had still not been installed as the country’s new premier. Najib remains the caretaker prime minister.
The state news agency Bernama said the ceremony was now scheduled for 9.30pm. Hundreds of supporters lined the roads leading to the palace as Mahathir arrived in a Proton vehicle – the Malaysian car company is his brainchild – with the car plate number “Proton 2020”.
In his heyday as premier, Mahathir pledged to bring the country to developed status by the year 2020.
Videos on social media showed the King Muhammad V arriving at the palace as well. There are no indications as to why the ceremony has been delayed.
Mahathir had been due to be sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister at Istana Negara – the seat of the country’s constitutional monarch, King Muhammad V, at 5pm.
Social media images showed the leader-in-waiting wearing traditional black “baju melayu” attire and cap. Mahathir will officially become the country’s prime minister after taking an oath pledging “undivided allegiance to the king”. A Muslim cleric will solemnise the ceremony with prayers.
Mahathir takes the mantle of power once again 37 years after he was sworn in as the country’s fourth prime minister on July 16, 1981.
Tun Mahathir is getting ready.— Khabir (@KhabirM) May 10, 2018
He’s already in his new Baju Melayu that he will wear during the swearing in ceremony.
A 93 year old man that BN has called senile and weak, due to be sworn in as the new prime minister of Malaysia.
This is it! pic.twitter.com/8bFcZ37ACJ
He held that position until October 31, 2003, when he handed over to Abdullah Badawi.
Thursday’s ceremony is being held following Mahathir’s request to the monarch in a press conference this morning to expedite his appointment.
Under the country’s constitution, the king is obliged to appoint a member of parliament whom he believes has the majority support from other lawmakers as prime minister.
Malaysia practices a unique form of monarchy, where nine hereditary Malay sultans take turns to be the country’s king for a term of five years.
With the power transition nearing, the national police chief Fuzi Harun in a press conference from the police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur said the force would “continue to uphold our duty and work with the government of the day to keep the people safe”.
He urged Malaysians to avoid engaging in “speculation” or “provocation”.
MAHATHIR HOPES KING WILL APPOINT HIM PRIME MINISTER TODAY
Speaking at a press conference, Mahathir said he hoped to be sworn in by 5pm today.
The veteran leader said there had been “some confusion” after King Muhammad V chose to have an audience with Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, leader of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party or PKR) instead of with him.
Convention is for the monarch to have an audience with the leader of the party or coalition who won the elections, and thereafter ask that person to be prime minister.
This protocol takes after British constitutional monarchy conventions.
In this case, Wan Azizah was invited because all four component parties of the Pakatan Harapan bloc used her PKR party’s symbol during the election.
The bloc however had nominated Mahathir as their choice for prime minister.
Mahathir said the “matter is being cleared” with the leaders of his coalition’s four component parties writing to the king indicating their support for him to be appointed premier.
He urged the monarch to act fast.
“Any delay will mean that we have no government. When we have no government we have no constitution, and no laws,” Mahathir said.
WHAT NEXT FOR CHINA-MALAYSIA RELATIONS?
Asked about Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, Mahathir said: “We don’t have a problem with it.”
However, he said the new government did not want “too many warships in this area”. Some of Mahathir’s allies have previously suggested China’s heavy investment in the country was a first step to plans to establish a military presence in the country owing to its strategic location along the Melaka Straits.
The previous Najib administration had said there was no basis for these claims.
Asked about Chinese investments in the country, Mahathir said: “We need to study all the things done by the previous government... it’s not only about China, it’s about a lot of things.”
China has significantly ramped up investments in Malaysia – especially in infrastructure projects – but Mahathir has said he fears Malaysia could be left over-leveraged on Chinese-linked debt if any of the projects turn awry.
“As you know China has a long experience of dealing with unequal treaties and China dealt with them by renegotiating”. He said Malaysia would renegotiate agreements if it felt they were lopsided.
Among the major projects involving China is the 55 billion ringgit (US$13 billion), 688km East Coast Rail Link linking Kuala Lumpur to the country’s underdeveloped east coast. Mahathir has said the project – mainly financed by loans from the Chinese Export Import Bank – does not represent value for money.
It is being developed by the China Communications Construction Company.
NAJIB: KING WILL DECIDE WHO GOVERNS
Najib, speaking at a brief press conference on Thursday morning, conceded his coalition had not won a simple majority, but added that no other party had either.
Instead, he said the country’s constitutional king Muhammad V had the sole discretion of deciding who would be premier.
“I accept the verdict of the people and BN is committed to respecting the principle of parliamentary democracy,” Najib said, flanked by top lieutenants.
Najib’s comments allude to the fact that Mahathir’s four-party Pakatan Harapan bloc is not formally registered as a coalition.
The election commission allowed the four parties to run under a single banner, but under the law, they remain distinct entities.
The defeated premier’s statement – he did not take questions from reporters – immediately sparked confusion online, with many wondering if he left room for further political manoeuvres to stay in power.
Mahathir, 92, the country’s premier from 1981 to 2003 and Najib’s ex-mentor, has been declared the preferred choice of the Pakatan Harapan camp.
Previously, Pakatan Harapan governed just two of the country’s 13 states – Selangor and Penang.
After last night’s vote, however, it holds the majority of parliamentary seats in the states of Johor, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Selangor, Perak and Kedah and Penang.
It looks set to form the provincial governments in five of these seven states, with Perak and Kedah poised to have hung state assemblies.
BN, which won 79 parliamentary seats, retained the states of Pahang, Perlis and the Borneo state of Sarawak.
BN and Pakatan Harapan’s informal ally in Sabah, Parti Warisan Sabah, have an equal number of seats in the state assembly, which means the province is also staring at the prospect of a hung state legislature.
In his remarks on Thursday, Najib said the verdict showed he and BN had no intention to “steal” the election as earlier alleged by Mahathir and his allies.
The BN leader touted his economic track record, including the addition of 3 million new jobs since he came to power in 2009, and said he “tried his best”.
“I would like to thank all leaders of BN at national and grass roots level for their hard work in conducting activities,” he said.