At 92, Mahathir makes a comeback in general elections

Malaysians elected 222 lawmakers and 505 members of state assemblies. The winning coalition can count on 121 MPs. Prime Minister Najib’s block won only 79 seats, a sharp drop from 133 in 2013. Financial scandals and inflation were decisive in his defeat. Previously, Mahathir served as PM from 1981 to 2003.


Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Mahathir Mohamad (pictured), 92, a former Prime Minister of Malaysia, has made a surprising comeback. His coalition, the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope, PH), defeated Prime Minister Najib Razak's Barisan Nasional (National Coalition, BN), winning 113 seats, one more than necessary to form a majority government.

The result of yesterday’s general election, the 14th in the country’s independent history, marks the end of the world's longest-lasting political reign, 61 years, since the end of British rule.

Voters were called to pick 222 Members of the Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives) and 505 members of 12 of the country’s 13 state legislative assemblies.

Official turnout data have not yet been released, but local media have said that some 70 per cent of the country’s 14,449,200 voters went to the polls. This is down from the 84.8% in 2013.

Thanks to the eight seats won in the state of Sabah by the PH’s informal ally, the Parti Warisan Sabah, Mahathir Mohamad can count on 121 lawmakers. The BN came in second with only 79 seats, a major drop from 133 in 2013.

Mahathir’s coalition won most seats in the states of Johor, Melaka, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Perak, Kedah and Penang. At the level of state assemblies, the Ph seems poised to govern in five states.

No one seems to have won an outright majority in Perak and Kedah. Before the vote, PH was in power only in Selangor and Penang. Najib’s most painful loss is Johor, a BN stronghold.

His defeat was by no means inevitable, and this despite corruption-related scandals that plagued his administration, especially over the 1MDB state investment fund, as well as the rising cost of living and a new controversial consumption tax.

For decades, populist policies that favoured majority ethnic Malays, such as cash donations, and appeals to Islamic conservative voters had entrenched the power of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Najib's party.

His opposition faced an even steeper uphill battle after the BN tried to stack the cards in its favour through gerrymandering and adopting a new law on fake news as a way to stifle criticism of the government.

The Pakatan Harapan is an alliance of four parties that includes veteran opposition figures who had clashed with Mahathir in the past, when the latter served as prime minister between 1981 and 2003.

Nevertheless, at the age of 90, the veteran politician joined the coalition in 2016, justifying the move by saying that he had lost all confidence in Najib, once his protégé, over his financial scandals.

As Najib’s mentor, Mahatir ruled Malaysia for decades with a firm grip and even threw his opponent Anwar Ibrahim into jail over sodomy charges.

During the election campaign, the prime minister-elect promised to overthrow Najib’s "corrupt" government and cede power to Anwar if it won, while the latter's wife, Wan Azizah, would become deputy prime minister.

Nothing has been announced yet as to when Mahathir will take the oath of office. Some analysts suggest that the ceremony might take place this evening before country's constitutional monarch, King Muhammad.

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