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Malaysia elections: Mahathir to form next government after being sworn in as PM

Palace refutes allegations that monarch delayed Dr Mahathir's appointment as prime minister

Dr Mahathir (left, in a file photo with PKR leader Wan Azizah) was sworn in just before 10 pm on Thursday at the Istana Negara by Malaysia's King, Sultan Muhammad V.

Dr Mahathir was sworn in just before 10 pm on Thursday at the Istana Negara by Malaysia's King, Sultan Muhammad V (above).

Kuala Lumpur

MALAYSIA'S king, Sultan Muhammad V has administered the oath of office to Mahathir Mohammed and invited the country's seventh prime minister to form the next government.

The swearing-in ceremony took place at the Istana Negara just before 10 pm on Thursday, a day after Dr Mahathir led an opposition alliance that defeated Najib Razak's ruling coalition.

The palace also refuted allegations that the king delayed the appointment of Dr Mahathir whose swearing-in had been pushed back hours after he won the general election.

The king interviewed and heard the views of the alliance's party chiefs - Wan Azizah, Muhyiddin Yassin, Lim Guan Eng and Mohamad Sabu - who belong to Dr Mahathir's Pakatan Harapan coalition before consenting to swear him in.

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"His Majesty strongly supports and respects the democratic process and the wishes of his subjects," the palace said. It added that the king looked forward to working with Dr Mahathir and his government for "the betterment of our nation and all its people".

Earlier in the day, Dr Mahathir had demanded the right to form a new government by 5 pm on Thursday, warning that any delay in his appointment would mean that Malaysia did not have the rule of law, he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

Mr Najib appeared to raise doubt on Thursday that his mentor-turned-foe would succeed him as prime minister following the stunning defeat of his ruling coalition.

He said while he accepted the "verdict of the people" in Wednesday's election, he told a news conference that, since no single party had won a simple majority of seats in the 222-member parliament, it would be up to the country's constitutional monarch to decide on the next prime minister.

Official results showed that Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) - which is made up of four parties - won 113 seats, one more than the number required to rule.

However, Pakatan Harapan is not formally registered as a coalition. The party in the alliance that won the most seats was the People's Justice Party (PKR), headed by Wan Azizah, the wife of jailed political leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Some political analysts said this could mean her becoming prime minister.

Alternatively, Mr Najib could try to argue that his party - the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) - has the largest number of seats and should be offered the chance to rule as a minority government.

Umno won 54 seats in the election and PKR won 42.

Umno is the dominant party in Mr Najib's Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which has ruled Malaysia for the six decades since independence from Britain. BN won 79 seats.

Mr Najib's comments added to uncertainty after a spokesman for the palace said Dr Mahathir would not be sworn in as prime minister on Thursday.

Dr Mahathir had said after declaring victory that the king would sign his letter of appointment on Thursday. It was unclear at first when he would be sworn in as prime minister, with a palace aide saying it would not take place on Thursday.

Mr Najib said he would accept whoever the king picked as the next prime minister.

"Barisan Nasional will respect whatever is the decision made by the king," he said in his first remarks after the election. "I would like to urge all Malaysians to remain in a calm manner and give trust to the king and his wisdom in making the best decision.

"Of course there will be a change," the 64-year-old said while conceding defeat at a news conference on Thursday, his voice catching with emotion. "My friends and I are fortunate to have led the country this far."

Dr Mahathir has promised to reverse a goods and services tax (GST) introduced by Mr Najib during his first 100 days in power and review foreign investments.

Global ratings agency Moody's said some of his campaign promises, including the GST and a reintroduction of fuel subsidies, could be credit negative for Malaysia's sovereign debt rating.

Dr Mahathir was once Mr Najib's mentor but they clashed after differences over the 1MDB graft scandal, in which billions of dollars were allegedly siphoned off to foreign countries. The scandal is being investigated by at least six countries, although Malaysia's attorney-general cleared Mr Najib of any wrongdoing.

Dr Mahathir vowed to investigate the scandal if elected and to bring the funds back to Malaysia. Asked on Thursday if Mr Najib would be prosecuted, he said: "If anybody breaks the law, and that includes a journalist, they will be brought before the court.

"We are not seeking revenge. What we want to do is to restore the rule of law."

He also said Malaysia may renegotiate some deals with China. He said that while he supported China's Belt and Road initiative (BRI) Malaysia reserved the right to renegotiate terms of some agreements with Beijing, if necessary.

"We have no problem with that (BRI), except of course we would not like to see too many warships in this area because (a) warship attracts other warships."

A Nomura report last month showed that Malaysia is one of the largest beneficiaries of Chinese investment commitments in Asia, securing US$34.2 billion of BRI-related infrastructure projects, which have prompted critics to accuse Mr Najib of "selling" Malaysia to the Asian powerhouse.

Asked about the idea of renegotiation, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang did not address the issue directly, but said the two countries' relations were developing well. "This is worth both sides cherishing and safeguarding," he said at a regular news briefing in Beijing.

Dr Mahathir has promised to seek a royal pardon for his former deputy and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and, once the latter is free, to step aside and let him become prime minister.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong congratulated Dr Mahathir in a Facebook post and wished him and his team every success, saying he hoped to catch up with him in person soon.

"Malaysia is a vital partner of Singapore, and our peoples share strong and deep bonds. I look forward to working with Tun Mahathir and the new government to enhance our cooperation. We can do much more together." REUTERS, BLOOMBERG


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