Malaysia Votes 2018

Mahathir: Urgent need to fix 'mess' in country

He calls on Malaysia's King to install him promptly, as there is 'a lot of work to be done'

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, flanked by Parti Keadlian Rakyat president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, drew laughter with his biting humour at a press conference yesterday.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, flanked by Parti Keadlian Rakyat president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, drew laughter with his biting humour at a press conference yesterday.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Malaysia's new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was finally sworn in yesterday, after he held a press conference to urge the King to immediately appoint a premier to form a new government.

"There is a lot of work to be done... we need to attend to this mess as soon as possible, and that means today. We expect today I will be sworn in as PM," said the 92-year-old former premier, who is known for not mincing his words.


He used some sharp digs and blunt talk to nudge the King to swear him in. The palace had earlier said that a new prime minister would not be taking an oath of office yesterday, despite Tun Dr Mahathir's coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) achieving a simple majority in Parliament to defeat Barisan Nasional (BN) and end the Umno-led pact's six decades in power.

Dr Mahathir said he had the support of 135 MPs, far surpassing the 112 needed for a simple majority. PH, he said, had won a clear majority and was entitled to form the government.

He told the press conference that all four parties in the coalition have "written to the King, asking for a ceremony to swear in the seventh prime minister to take place now".

He said that allies such as former Umno vice-president Shafie Apdal's Warisan in Sabah have "all signed the same declaration that they support" him as the new prime minister. A public petition calling on the Conference of Rulers to endorse the PH government was also circulated on social media, garnering nearly 65,000 signatures as at noon yesterday.

Displaying his trademark biting humour, Dr Mahathir told the room that the prime minister candidate chosen by PH "as you may have heard, is Dr Mahathir Mohamad".


When the audience laughed and applauded, he quipped, referring to the delay in swearing him in as premier: "You are all clapping. The King is not required to clap, he is required to sign."

But savvy Dr Mahathir refused to be drawn on the nature of his relationship with the ruler, Sultan Muhammad V, merely saying: "I don't know about (him) not liking me. I am a very nice person. I have the support of the majority of the Members of Parliament. That is what the provision of the Constitution says. It doesn't say, 'I like you, I don't like you, I love you'," he said.

Dr Mahathir also said his new government would study "all the things that were done by the previous government", including agreements entered into with China. While he supported Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, he said Malaysia will study and renegotiate the terms of some of its deals with Beijing, if needed.

"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," he said.

He also reiterated his concerns about money borrowed by the BN government, including for the East Coast Rail Link project. "It's a great burden to the country," he said.

Asked about these comments at a regular press briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China highly values its ties with Malaysia, which have benefited both their peoples, and "this deserves to be cherished and maintained by both sides".

He added: "Dr Mahathir is a senior politician. He has made important contributions to the development of Sino-Malaysian ties."

Dr Mahathir also said his government would cancel the unpopular goods and services tax.

Later, when posing for photographs, he remarked sarcastically: "My face is no longer haram (forbidden in Islam). So, you don't have to tear out my face from pictures."

He was referring to new rules during the recent election campaign which barred his face from appearing in publicity materials.

"I am not saying anything against the government, you know. By the way, at this moment, there is no government," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2018, with the headline 'Mahathir: Urgent need to fix 'mess' in country'. Print Edition | Subscribe