Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday was sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister following his stunning election victory over the coalition that has ruled the South-east Asian nation for six decades since independence from Britain.
Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, Sultan Muhammad V, administered the oath of office just before 10 p.m. (1400 GMT), in a ceremony carried live on state television from the palace.
Mahathir, 92, was dressed in a traditional black “baju melayu” tunic and sarong, with an Islamic cap on his head.
He is the oldest elected leader in the world. Hundreds of Malaysians were lined up on the road leading to the palace, waving party flags and cheering.
The Election Commission announced the result long before dawn and there was some consternation in the capital over the time taken to swear in the new prime minister.
“There is an urgency here, we need to form the government now, today,” Mahathir told a news conference earlier in the day, where he insisted that he would be sworn in.
Mahathir ruled Malaysia with an iron fist from 1981 to 2003, while he came out of retirement to take on his former protege, Najib Razak, who was prime minister for nearly a decade.
Mahathir’s alliance of four parties trounced Najib’s Barisan Nasional (BN), the first time it had ever lost an election.
Earlier, 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 121 seats, comfortably over the 112 required to rule, but it has not been formally registered as an alliance.
NAN reports that Mahathir’s political career has spanned more than 70 years since he first joined a newly formed United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in 1946, before forming his own party Malaysian United Indigenous Party in 2016.
During Mahathir’s tenure as Prime Minister, Malaysia experienced a period of rapid modernisation and economic growth, and his government initiated a series of bold infrastructure projects. Mahathir was a dominant political figure, winning five consecutive general elections and fending off a series of rivals for the leadership of UMNO.
However, his accumulation of power came at the expense of the independence of the judiciary and the traditional powers and privileges of Malaysia’s royalty.
He deployed the controversial Internal Security Act to detain activists, non-mainstream religious figures, and political opponents including the Deputy Prime Minister he fired in 1998, Anwar Ibrahim.
Mahathir’s record of curbing civil liberties and his antagonism towards western interests and economic policy made his relationships with the U.S., UK and Australia, among others, difficult.
As Prime Minister, he was an advocate of third-world development and a prominent international activist.