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Malaysia election: confusion as rival questions Mahathir’s right to be sworn in

Confirmation as prime minister thrown into doubt, with defeated incumbent Najib Razak allegedly offering inducements for MPs to switch sides

WT24 Desk

The election of Mahathir Mohamad as Malaysia’s new leader has been thrown into doubt after his rival Najib Razak refused to concede defeat and was allegedly offering opposition candidates $6m to switch sides, The Guardian reports.

It was presumed that the election results, which saw a historic win for the opposition for the first time in 60 years, would make way for Mahathir, who this year switched to the opposition party, to return to power.

However, Mahathir’s confirmation faced setbacks on Thursday morning, with reports that the king was refusing to swear him in and that Najib was attempting to swing the election his way by buying up candidates in the state of Sabah.

There was also a suggestion that, according to the constitution, Mahathir was not even eligible to be prime minister because the opposition coalition is not technically one party.

The party that got the most seats was PKR, which is led by the wife of former prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, and there were reports she would be named prime minister instead.

However, speaking on Thursday morning Mahathir attempted to put all doubts to rest about whether he would be prime minister and said he would be forming a government by the evening.

“Today I want to emphasise that our coalition, Pakatan Harapan, has already won a clear majority and therefore we are invited to form a government. We stand by the rule of law and whatever we do must be governed by the constitution.”

He said that according to the constitution “the prime minister should have the support of the majority of the candidates of parliament, it does not say it should have the support of any one party”, and emphasised that all parties in the coalition had signed a letter backing him as the choice for prime minister.

“We would like to form the government here, today, because currently there is no government of Malaysia,” said Mahathir. “We hope that at 5o’clock today we will have formed a government.”

Multiple reports from the ground in the state of Sabah suggested that on Thursday morning Najib and Barisan Nasional were still offering the candidates from the local Warisan party 20 million ringgit ($6m) to switch sides, though that would still not give them a parliamentary majority.

Mahathir, however, insisted that Warisan were fully backing the opposition coalition and dismissed the reports from Sabah.

Najib, who had been prime minister since 2009, made a speech on Thursday morning saying he accepted “the verdict delivered by the people”. However he did not admit defeat and instead highlighted that no party had achieved a simple majority.

“Because no party has gotten a simple majority, therefore the king will be making a decision as to who will be the prime minister,” said Najib.

With Mahathir now in power, Najib may also be facing the prospect of being investigated and prosecuted for his role in the 1MDB scandal, where $3.2bn of a Malaysian government fund was embezzled, with $681 allegedly ending up in Najib’s personal bank account and funded a multi-million dollar jewellery spree for his wife.

As prime minister Najib cleared himself of any wrongdoing, but Mahathir has repeatedly stated his belief that Najib was involved and pledged to see justice done.

Speaking on Thursday, he did not rule out prosecuting Najib. “I am not seeing revenge, we don’t want to punish people but the rule rule of law will be clearly implemented,” he said. “If Najib has done something wrong, then he will have to pay the price.”

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