Malaysia Votes 2018

Mahathir's relentless campaigning pays off

Above: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, leader of Pakatan Harapan, holding up an ink-stained finger as he voted in Alor Setar yesterday. The former prime minister had criss-crossed the country, campaigning relentlessly for the opposition for this election. L
Above: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, leader of Pakatan Harapan, holding up an ink-stained finger as he voted in Alor Setar yesterday. The former prime minister had criss-crossed the country, campaigning relentlessly for the opposition for this election.PHOTO: REUTERS
Above: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, leader of Pakatan Harapan, holding up an ink-stained finger as he voted in Alor Setar yesterday. The former prime minister had criss-crossed the country, campaigning relentlessly for the opposition for this election. L
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak of Barisan Nasional (BN) showing his ink-stained finger after voting in Pekan, Pahang, yesterday. This election saw the most intense fight between BN and Pakatan Harapan.PHOTO: REUTERS

Opposition leader achieves unprecedented feat, but shows annoyance at delay of results

Malaysia's one-time prime minister turned opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad achieved an unprecedented feat in the nation's history by leading opposition pact Pakatan Harapan (PH) to victory in the 14th General Election.

The opposition alliance won a simple majority of at least 112 seats out of 222 seats, the Election Commission said, gaining control of Parliament.

Appearing slightly annoyed, Tun Dr Mahathir, 92, had earlier told reporters at around 11.30pm yesterday that PH has crossed the threshold of 112 seats.

"It would seem that we have practically achieved that figure of 112, and the figure for BN is very much less than that," he said, referring to the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional.

"There's no way they can catch up," he added.

Dr Mahathir also said six states had fallen to PH, namely Penang, Selangor, Kedah, Johor, Negeri Sembilan and Melaka. He added that Parti Warisan Sabah, PH's ally in East Malaysia led by former Umno vice-president Shafie Apdal, had also won the state.

But the prolonged delay in announcing the results of the election, even past midnight, raised the ire of Dr Mahathir, who led Malaysia for 22 years. "There is some hanky-panky being done to frustrate the people," he said.

Yesterday's results for PH were significant for Dr Mahathir, who had said this would be his last election, after staging a comeback in politics two years ago following a dispute with Prime Minister Najib Razak over leadership and financial mismanagement of debt-laden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Dr Mahathir had criss-crossed the country, campaigning relentlessly for the opposition.

This election saw the most intense fight between BN, led by Datuk Seri Najib, and PH, whose charge was led by Dr Mahathir.

The opposition has been working on persuading Malay voters to snub BN on the back of rising costs of living and allegations of corruption involving Mr Najib.

The 1MDB scandal has taken a toll on Mr Najib's reputation, despite his denials of wrongdoing and being cleared by the Attorney-General in 2016. PH leaders have banked on reports of Mr Najib and his family's extravagant lifestyle to drive voters to the ballot box.

Many Malaysians, who were apathetic towards politics and the prospect of changing government just over a month ago, were angered by a mid-week polling day and began a movement to get voters home to vote.

Nationwide rallies held by PH across the country in the past month saw thousands turning up, even in rural areas where political support has traditionally gone to BN.

On Tuesday evening, independent pollster Merdeka Center had forecast a narrow win for BN, predicting that many Malay voters, especially those in rural areas, would still cast their vote for the coalition that has governed Malaysia since independence in 1957.

Having turned the tables, Dr Mahathir said the Election Commission needs to declare the results, accusing polling station officers of refusing to sign the result slip rendering the no-announcement outcome.

"It's quite obvious from the showing by people that they want Najib out. I'm worried certain people with authority are backing him," he said.

As part of the opposition's promise, if it wins the mandate, it will ease the cost of living by abolishing the unpopular goods and services tax within its first 100 days in office.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2018, with the headline 'Mahathir's relentless campaigning pays off'. Print Edition | Subscribe