Kuala Lumpur: In a stunning move, Malaysia’s former ruler Mahathir Mohamad,92, led opposition alliance won a majority in parliament ending the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition’s 60-year rule, which has been in power since independence in 1957.
The opposition won 113 seats – one more than required for simple majority – and the BN has 79 in the 222-member parliament, according to official results announced on Thursday.
Mahathir Mohamad ran Malaysia with an iron fist for more than two decades from 1981 until he stepped down in 2003, the country’s longest-serving prime minister, a doctor, and force behind Malaysia’s transformation into a leading Southeast Asian economy.
He played political king maker after leaving power, then came storming out of retirement at the age of 92 to dethrone Prime Minister Najib Razak in a stunning political upset.
Mahathir’s comeback is full of interesting plot twists. Najib’s rise to power in 2009 owes much to the elder statesman, who orchestrated a campaign to push out Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, his successor in the long-ruling coalition anchored by the United Malays National Organisation, the country’s biggest party. Then, angered by Najib’s economic policies and the 1MDB scandal, Mahathir bolted from Najib’s party in 2016 and joined forces with the opposition.
In his concession speech in the morning, Prime Minister Najib accepted his party’s defeat and vowed to respect the verdict of the people, but remained defiant about his former mentor’s victory.
“Since there is not one single party that has gained a simple majority, the Agong [king] will make his decision on who will be the prime minister,” he said, hinting at possible trouble on the horizon for Mahathir. Najib urged the country to remain calm while the king makes “the best choice.”
During his 22 years in office, Mahathir worked hard to put Malaysia on the world map with ambitious projects such as the world’s tallest office building, the world’s longest building, one of the world’s largest dams, and Southeast Asia’s largest airport.
Mahathir has an image of moderate voice of Islam which shows that it is possible to be both Muslim and modern; to be pro-development and outward-looking. Malaysia also shows how a society that is significantly Islamic can accommodate other beliefs and ideas.
He’s set to create a new world record when he’s sworn in, supplanting former Indian Prime Minister Morarji Ranchhodji Desai as the oldest prime minister ever appointed.
Given his stunning political comeback so late in life, it’s safe to assume Mahathir has secured his place in the history books.