After much confusion, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was officially sworn in as the country’s 7th prime minister on Thursday night (May 10).
The opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan won a simple majority of 113 of Malaysia’s 222 parliamentary seats in the country’s 14th general election on Wednesday (May 9) in an unexpected victory over the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition which has held power since independence.
The 92-year-old was sworn in shortly before 10 pm, following meetings between the King and Pakatan Harapan party leaders.
The ceremony marked the end of a day of confusion and speculation over a delay in swearing in the new prime minister after official results were announced.
The palace had said on Thursday morning that Mahathir would not be sworn in on May 10, contradicting previous reports that the ceremony would be held at 9:30 am.
Defeated former prime minister Najib Razak’s also seemed to suggest during a press conference held the same morning that Mahathir’s appointment to the role of prime minister may not yet be confirmed.
While Najib declared that he “accept[s] the verdict of the people,” he went on to point out that no party had secured a simple majority and that the final decision was in the hands of the King – perhaps referring to the fact that Pakatan Harapan is not formally registered as a coalition.
“Barisan is committed to respect the principles of Parliament. But because no single party achieved a simple majority, the Agong [King] will make a decision on who will be prime minister,” Najib said, according to The Star.
He urged the people to respect the decision that will be made by the Agong, and trust that the Agong will make the best decision.
“Now the rakyat [people] will wait and see if the promises by [Pakatan Harapan] that were made in their manifesto and speeches are kept,” The Star quotes Najib as saying.
He also took the opportunity to deny that there was any cheating by members of his coalition, and to thank members of Barisan Nasional and their families.
Speaking at a press conference later on Thursday, Mahathir emphasized that there was “an urgency here to form the government today,” and said that he expected to be sworn in by 5 pm.
“We need to form the government now today, because currently there is no government of Malaysia,” he said, adding that there is no rule of law without a government.
He pointed out that the Constitution of Malaysia allows for a person to become prime minister if they have the support of the majority of members of Parliament, The Star reported.
“It doesn’t say that it should have the support of any party. As long as there is majority of support from members of Parliament, he is entitled to become prime minister,” he said.
All parties in Pakatan Harapan, as well as parties that support the coalition in Sabah, signed a declaration of support which was received by the King, The Star reported.
A petition urging the Conference of Rulers to endorse a Pakatan Harapan government was also circulated online, garnering almost 65,000 signatures by midday, according to The Star.
When questioned at the press conference on whether the delays in his swearing could be because the royalty did not like him, Mahathir said he didn’t know, The Star reported.
“I don’t know about not liking me. I’m a very nice person. I have the support of the majority of the members of parliament. That is what the provision of the Constitution says. It doesn’t say I like you, I don’t like you, I love you,” he said.
In a statement released on Thursday evening, the Palace strongly refuted allegations that the King had deliberately delayed the appointment of Mahathir as prime minister.
“His Majesty the King has faithfully carried out his duties and functions in accordance with the Federal Constitution in appointing Tun Dr Mahathir as Prime Minister,” it read.
“His majesty the King strongly supports and respects the democratic process and the wishes of his people.”
Mahathir’s swearing-in ceremony marked the start of his second stint as Malaysia’s prime minister, having held the position for a record 22 years previously.