Malaysia‘s opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad said the alliance he leads has won enough parliament seats in Wednesday’s general election to form the next government. The vote count was continuing, however.
A simple majority of 112 seats is required by a party or alliance to rule, a number 92-year-old Mahathir said his Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope, believed it had secured to defeat Prime Minister Najib Razak‘s ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN).
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“It would seem that we have practically achieved that figure. The figure for the BN is very much less that,” he said. “There is no way they can catch up.”
With 176 out of 222 parliament seats counted, Mahathir’s opposition alliance had 90 seats while BN had 69 with smaller parties taking the others, the Election Commission announced.
There was no immediate comment from officials with BN, which has governed Malaysia for the past 60 years.
Journalists flocked to the headquarters of Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the lynchpin in the ruling coalition, but he failed to turn up to give a speech and the media were told to leave.
Najib, who has ruled the Southeast Asian country for nearly 10 years, will address the media at 11am local time (03:00 GMT) on Thursday.
The election race has been one of the most closely contested in Malaysia’s history, with Mahathir coming out of retirement to take on his former protege Najib, who has been embroiled in a massive corruption scandal.
The corruption allegations have dogged Najib for years and appear to have soured Malaysian voters.
The US Justice Department says $4.5bn was looted from the 1MBD investment fund by associates of the prime minister between 2009 and 2014, including $700m that landed in Najib’s bank account.
He denies any wrongdoing.
Earlier in the night, Mahathir accused the Election Commission of holding the official results back.
“It is likely there’s some hanky-panky being done in order to frustrate the wishes of the people,” he said at a hastily convened press conference just before midnight.
But the Election Commission said it cannot make any statements regarding the “true results” of the election until all have been validated.
“I hope people can be patient … We will try our best to get information from around the country,” Election Commission Chairman Mohamad Hashim Abdullah told reporters.
“Of course, political parties can declare whoever [they believe has won] but … please wait.”
Meanwhile, state-run Bernama news agency said the opposition gained several new seats in Sarawak state, a traditional BN stronghold.
Some key figures in the ruling coalition had fallen, with the heads of the ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian parties having lost their seats, according to unofficial counts on Bernama.
Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert at John Cabot University in Rome, said attributed the opposition’s gains to Mahathir.
“There is a massive swing across races. It’s a big shift. This is a repudiation of Najib’s government from all walks of life from the very rural northern states to the more industrial southern coast,” she told the Associated Press news agency.
“The person who has made this happen is Mahathir. He has been a significant game changer. He made people feel that a transition of power is possible,” she said.
Faced with a reinvigorated opposition, the government has used the levers of power to further tilt the playing field in its favor, critics and analysts say.
Redrawn electoral boundaries were rushed through parliament last month, pushing likely opposition voters into districts that already support the opposition and dividing constituencies along racial lines.
The opposition was targeted by authorities during the election campaign with police launching a probe into Mahathir for allegedly breaking a controversial new law against “fake news” after he claimed a plane he chartered was sabotaged.
“We still need to wait for the official results to come in,” said Keith Leong, head of research at the KRA Group consultancy.
“However, the signs point to unprecedented losses to the ruling BN. The only thing that is certain is that we are entering new and uncharted terrain politically.
“We are witnessing history being made in this country.”