KUALA LUMPUR - Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was sworn in as Malaysia's seventh Prime Minister on Thursday night (May 10), hours after former premier Najib Razak said that he accepted the will of the people that handed Barisan Nasional (BN) a shock defeat which ended the Umno-led pact's six decades in power.
Following a series of press conferences in which he asserted that his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition clearly won Wednesday's vote and agreed to back him as Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir was granted an audience with the King, Sultan Muhammad V, at 5pm.
But it would be five hours before he was officially declared Prime Minister, as he had to wait while leaders of the four parties in his coalition were interviewed by the King. The latter then invited the 92-year-old to form the next government and add to his 22 years of experience leading the country.
PH and its ally Parti Warisan Sabah won 121 seats in the 222-seat federal Parliament in the keenly contested May 9 general election, while BN secured 79 seats, in results that were ready by the wee hours of Thursday morning.
The palace received the official results from the Election Commission at 2.45pm on Thursday.
However, the lag raised questions among the public, and on social media, prompting the Comptroller of the Royal Household Wan Ahmad Dahlan Abdul Aziz to say in a statement last night: "Istana Negara strongly refutes any allegation that His Majesty... delayed the appointment of Tun Dr Mahathir as Prime Minister."
"His Majesty looks forward to working with Tun Dr Mahathir and his administration for the betterment of our nation and all its people," the statement added.
Confusion had erupted after messages went viral about a 9.30am swearing-in, which the palace had to deny. Later, it was expected that Dr Mahathir, now the world's oldest head of government, would be sworn in during his 5pm audience, which instead ended up being a test of his control of Parliament.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference after the ceremony, Dr Mahathir said the delay was "unavoidable because of certain official processes which we have to go through". "I would like to thank the people who supported us," he said.
He also gave the assurance that his administration would be business-friendly. "Malaysia has been a trading nation. You don't quarrel with your market," he said.
Having defeated the long-ruling BN, which he headed until 2003, and then left in 2016 after calling for Datuk Seri Najib's ouster over the scandal at state-owned fund 1MDB, Dr Mahathir had earlier asked to be sworn in "as soon as possible" after his PH crossed the threshold of a simple majority of 112 seats by early Thursday morning.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted a congratulatory message on Facebook shortly after Dr Mahathir took his oath of office, saying he wished him and his team every success, and 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," he said.
Singapore's Foreign Ministry noted that the people of Malaysia have given the new government a clear mandate to lead the country. "We have had close relations and extensive cooperation with successive Malaysian governments, including the government of Tun Mahathir when he was previously prime minister," it said.
Mr Najib told reporters at the Umno headquarters on Thursday: "I accept the verdict of the people, and BN is committed to respecting the principles of parliamentary democracy." But he stopped short of conceding defeat.
After Dr Mahathir was sworn in, Mr Najib said on Twitter that he had sent his congratulations to his successor. "I am prepared to help in a smooth transition of power," he added.