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Mahathir claims historic victory in incredible Malaysian election
Sydney Morning Herald - May 10, 2018
In a result that has dumbfounded most analysts and turned Malaysia's political system upside-down after decades of one-party rule, the Muslim-majority nation delivered a resounding vote for change on Wednesday by dumping the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The result will go off like a political earthquake in south-east Asia, where there has long been a tendency towards one-party rule and which in recent years has taken a turn towards more authoritarian regimes.
After a marathon night of counting which appeared to grind to a complete halt at one point, Mahathir's Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition of four parties had won at least 119 seats in the 222 member Parliament by 6am, Australian time.
And according to official results from the Electoral Commission – who many accused of favouring the ruling party – Najib's Barisan Nasional (National Coalition) had won just 97 seats, with six to be decided.
Immediately after the declaration of the results, people took the streets and parks of Kuala Lumpur, car horns blaring and flags waving as the nation of 31 million people celebrated a historic victory.
At a late-night conference, Mahathir told reporters it looked like Malaysia would have its first change in government in 61 years.
The 92-year-old Mahathir said a representative of Malaysia's constitutional monarchy had contacted the opposition to acknowledge its victory and a prime minister, expected to be him, would be sworn in later today.
"We are not seeking revenge [against Najib, for the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund scandal], we are seeking to restore the rule of law," Mahathir told his supporters and media gathered at the Sheraton Hotel in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Asked by Fairfax Media what the historic day meant to Malaysia and Malaysians after 61 years of one-party rule, Mahathir joked: "What does it mean? Well, I don't know. I've never experienced this before. This is the first time, so I will have to devise new ways of doing things".
His supporters roared their approval at the response.
Mahathir was prime minister for 22 years, from 1981 to 2003, for the Barisan Nasional coalition, which has now lost its narrow majority.
Earlier, Khairy Jamaluddin, a member of Najib's cabinet, said the prime minister planned to hold a press conference on Thursday. Najib did not speak publicly.
"We're going to accept the will of the people," he said. "Whatever it is, we need to respect the will of the people."
Earlier in the evening, Mahathir had claimed there was no way the government could catch the opposition.
As official counting appeared to stall and rumours that Najib had called together his national security committee circulated on social media, Mahathir warned the man he had mentored not to defy the will of the Malaysian people.
The opposition swept to victory in nine out of 16 state elections, too, further underscoring the strength of the landslide.
Ahead of the election, Mahathir had predicted a "Malay tsunami" would sweep Najib from power, though most analysts believed Pakatan Harapan would fall just short of victory.
Indeed, Mahathir's deputy Wan Azizah Wan Ismail – soon to be the deputy prime minister – had told Fairfax Media the opposition hoped for a hung parliament.
Mahathir's return to power was preceded by this decision to come out of retirement and teaming up with Anwar Ibrahim – who served as his deputy prime minister in the 1990s, before the pair fell out spectacularly and Anwar was jailed on trumped-up sodomy charges.
The prime minister-elect has promised to stand aside for Anwar (who is serving the final days of a jail term on specious sodomy charges) to become prime minister.
Mahathir confirmed the plan in the early hours of Thursday morning. "We will work on his [royal] pardon, once he is pardoned he will be eligible to become prime minister."
That would take place as soon as possible, he said, though Anwar would first have to win a seat in Parliament again.
Polling from the respected Merdeka Centre had indicated that at best, the result was too close to call.
Before the poll was called, a dodgy electoral re-distribution was implemented to worsen already-gerrymandered electorates and new "fake news" laws were passed which critics said would shut down discussion of Najib's involvement in the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund scandal.
Overseas Malaysians, including many from the 160,000-strong diaspora in Australia, flooded back to the country of their birth to vote.
Facebook groups were set up to coordinate the hand-delivery of precious postal votes by returning expats which may otherwise not have made it back in time.
Nearly 14.5 million Malaysians were eligible to vote in the election and turn out was about 75 per cent, down compared to the 2013 election.