Vote tally released by the Malaysian Election Commission on Thursday morning showed that the opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan (PH), led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, obtained a simple majority, 113 seats out of the 222 seats of the parliament’s lower house, enough for them to form the federal government.
Meanwhile, seats retained by the multi-racial Barisan Nasional coalition, which has run the country for more than six decades, fell from 133 in the last election to 79.
The results would mark a comeback for Mahathir, a retired political strongman who ran the Malaysian government from 1981 to 2003.
Born in a small village near the border with Thailand, Mahathir is known for steering Malaysia from a mining backwater to become one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies.
At 92, he would become the world’s oldest leader if he is sworn in, possibly on Friday. But Mahathir promised to hand over the premiership to Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister who is in prison for sodomy charges and is scheduled to be released in June.
The win for the opposition ended the reign of Najib Razak, a former protégé of Mahathir, with whom he fell out after a scandal involving the state development fund 1MDB broke out. Najib denied any wrongdoing.
At a press conference held on Thursday morning, Mahathir said he would not seek revenge but is “seeking to restore the rule of law.”
Najib is yet to make an announcement for the election results. It is reported that he will call a press conference at 11:00 a.m. local time (0300 GMT).
Multiple polls before the election had predicted that BN would extend its grip on power.
The rout of BN was made possible by a Malaysian tsunami, said an editorial by local media Malaysiakini, referring to the swing of BN core supporters to PH. These core voters may include Malay people in rural areas, who have long relied on subsidies and favorable policies espoused by BN.
PH also won five of the 12 state legislatures, even breaking into BN traditional fortress such as the states of Johor and Kedah. Several BN heavyweights and cabinet ministers failed to retake their parliamentary seats.
If the opposition forms a government, it is expected that several policies introduced under the BN government will be revoked, including the unpopular 6-percent Goods and Services Tax. Mahathir has promised to reintroduce a fuel subsidy and abolish the debts of palm farmers.
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