Mahathir stuns Malaysia with upset election victory

Mahathir stuns Malaysia with upset election victory

Mahathir Mohamed and supporters celebrate at a Kuala Lumpur hotel after official results showed they staged a stunning upset to win Wednesday's general election, ending the six-decade rule of the National Front. (AP photos)
Mahathir Mohamed and supporters celebrate at a Kuala Lumpur hotel after official results showed they staged a stunning upset to win Wednesday's general election, ending the six-decade rule of the National Front. (AP photos)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's veteran ex-leader Mahathir Mohamad, 92, won a shock election victory Thursday, in a political earthquake that toppled the country's scandal-plagued premier and ousted a regime that has ruled for over six decades.

It was a stunning triumph that almost no one had predicted and ended the long hold on power of the Barisan Nasional (BN, National Front) coalition, which has ruled Malaysia since its birth as an independent country.

The victory capped a dramatic political comeback for Mahathir, who previously ruled the country with an iron fist for 22 years, and came out of retirement to taken on Prime Minister Najib Razak after the leader became embroiled in a massive corruption scandal.

Results as of 3.45am, Thailand time. The ruling BN party is in blue, the opposition HP in red. There are 222 seats in parliament.

When he takes power, Mahathir will be the oldest prime minister in the world.

His victory spells big trouble for Najib -- Mahathir has vowed to bring him to justice over allegations that billions of dollars were looted from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, which the scandal-plagued leader set up and oversaw.

But at a press conference, Mahathir vowed: "We are not seeking revenge. We want to restore the rule of law."

Mahathir's return to the political frontlines saw him throw in his lot with an opposition alliance filled with parties that he crushed while in power, and which includes jailed opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim -- his former nemesis.

As well as seizing control of the national government, several state legislatures across the country fell into opposition hands for the first time, including the highly symbolic bastion of Johor, the birthplace of Najib's party that was the lynchpin of the ruling coalition.

Official results from the Election Commission showed that Mahathir's opposition grouping Pakatan Harapan, along with an ally in the Borneo state of Sabah, had secured 115 parliamentary seats. 112 are needed to form a government. BN were on 79 seats with just a few left to count.

As it became clear that Mahathir had won, supporters took to the streets waving flags of the opposition alliance.

After polls closed earlier in the day, journalists had flocked to the headquarters of Najib's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the lynchpin in the ruling coalition -- but he failed to turn up to give a victory speech and the media were told to leave.

Huge numbers of voters earlier flocked to the polls across the country, despite Najib having called the election on a weekday in what critics said was a bid to keep turnout down.

The BN wipeout is a disaster for Najib, who had been under pressure to score an emphatic win after the government lost the popular vote for the first time at the last elections in 2013.

The controversy surrounding 1MDB has dogged Najib since the story exploded in 2015. Billions of dollars were allegedly stolen from the fund, which was set up and overseen by Najib. The leader and 1MDB deny any wrongdoing.

But in rural areas, the rising cost of living, which has hit poor Malays hard, was the main concern at the election particularly after the introduction of an unpopular sales tax in 2015.


EARLIER REPORT

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's veteran ex-leader Mahathir Mohamad, 92, said Wednesday he was confident of victory after early unofficial tallies showed his opposition alliance making strong gains in a fierce election battle against scandal-hit Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Official results were extremely slow to trickle out, and showed the ruling coalition and opposition neck and neck. However a series of unofficial tallies showed the opposition alliance, Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope), leading in parliamentary seats and making unprecedented gains in some parts of the country.

Ex-premier and opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad, right, spoke to the media at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur late Wednesday.

Addressing reporters in Kuala Lumpur, Mahathir -- who came out of retirement to take on his former protege Najib and the party he himself led for years -- said he believed his coalition had achieved the number of parliamentary seats needed for victory.

"There is no way they can catch up," Mahathir said, referring to the Barisan Nasional (BN, National Front) coalition which has led Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957.

Results as of 1.45am, Thailand time. The ruling BN party is in blue, the opposition HP in red. There are 222 seats in parliament.

BN had long looked on course for victory but Mahathir's decision take on Najib, due to the 1MDB financial scandal, turned the election race on its head.

Mahathir has thrown his lot in with an alliance packed with parties that he crushed while in power, which includes jailed opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim -- his former nemesis.

Analysts had widely predicted that Najib's BN would retain power mainly due to an electoral system critics say has been heavily manipulated.

Early unofficial results however showed the opposition making strong gains. A tally on the website of the pro-government Star newspaper showed the opposition with 63 seats ahead of BN on 41.

The opposition also made strong gains in Sarawak state on Borneo island, a long-time BN stronghold, according to unofficial counts from state news agency Bernama.

Key BN leaders, including the head of the coalition's ethnic Indian and Chinese parties, also lost their seats, according to unofficial counts.

Mahathir accused the Election Commission of refusing to release the results "because we believe from our unofficial counting that they (BN) are left far behind and the likelihood is that they will not be forming the government".

He noted that the opposition needed 112 seats out of the 222 in parliament and "it would seem that we have effectively achieved that figure".

Official results on the Election Commission website showed BN with 27 seats and the People's Justice Party and the Democratic Action Party -- two of the parties in the opposition alliance -- on 27 and seven seats respectively.

Mahathir won his seat on the holiday island of Langkawi while Najib won his in the constituency of Pekan, according to unofficial tallies.

Huge numbers of voters earlier flocked to the polls across the country, despite Najib having called the election on a weekday in what critics said was a bid to keep turnout down.

Some voters complained they were forced to queue up outside polling stations for hours, sparking concerns they may not be able cast their ballots.

The race has been fiercely contested, and the opposition alliance has gained ground in recent weeks as Mahathir, who ruled with an iron fist for 22 years, chipped away at the government's key support base, the Muslim Malay majority.

Najib has been under pressure to score an emphatic win after the government lost the popular vote for the first time at the last elections in 2013. Observers say his position as prime minister could be under threat if he does not do well.

The controversy surrounding 1MDB has dogged Najib since the story exploded in 2015. Billions of dollars were allegedly stolen from the fund, which was set up and overseen by Najib. The leader and 1MDB deny any wrongdoing.

But in rural areas, the rising cost of living, which has hit poor Malays hard, has been the main concern particularly after the introduction of an unpopular sales tax in 2015.

The opposition has faced an uphill battle for victory.

Critics have accused the BN of gerrymandering with a redrawing of electoral boundaries that created constituencies more likely to back them, while activists have alleged numerous irregularities in the electoral roll.

The opposition has been targeted by authorities during the campaign, with police launching a probe into Mahathir for allegedly breaking a controversial new law against "fake news" after he claimed a plane he chartered was sabotaged.


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