Mahathir Mohamad, 92 years old, who ruled Malaysia with an iron fist from 1981 to 2003, is set to become the oldest elected leader in the world.
His alliance of four parties beat trounced the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition of 64-year-old Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was once Mahathir’s protege but became his most bitter rival.
It was an electoral upset, but not unexpected, over the coalition that has ruled the Southeast Asian nation for six decades since independence from Britain.
“There is an urgency here, we need to form the government now, today,” Mahathir told a news conference, where he insisted that he would be sworn in as prime minister later on Thursday.
Malaysia’s constitutional monarch has granted Mahathir an audience at 5:00 p.m. (0900 GMT), a leader from his Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) told Reuters.
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.
Official results showed that Mahathir’s coalition won 113 seats, one more than the number required to rule. But it has not been formally registered as an alliance.
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 a.m.
However, 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.