PETALING JAYA - Pakatan Harapan (PH) leader Mahathir Mohamad was on Thursday (May 10) invited by Malaysia’s king Sultan Muhammad V to form the next federal government, a palace statement said.
Tun Dr Mahathir was expected to be sworn in by the monarch as Malaysia’s new prime minister at 9.30pm, the statement said. He is expected to hold a press conference after the swearing-in ceremony.
“His Majesty strongly supports and respects the democratic process and the wishes of his subjects," the statement by Datuk Wan Ahmad Dahlan Ab Aziz, Comptroller of the Royal Household, said.
The statement also said that the palace "strongly refutes any allegation that His Majesty The Yang di-Pertuan Agong XV Sultan Muhammad V delayed the appointment of Tun Dr Mahathir as Prime Minister".
Dr Mahathir had earlier been expected to be sworn in at 5pm. He had been accompanied by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and other PH leaders.
At a media conference earlier on Thursday, Dr Mahathir, 92, said he had the support of 135 MPs, far surpassing the 112 needed for a simple majority.
Party chiefs of the PH coalition he leads have been interviewed by Sultan Muhammad V and it appears that Malaysia’s ruler is satisfied that Dr Mahathir commands the confidence of Parliament.
PH, Dr Mahathir said on Thursday morning, had won a clear majority and is entitled to form the government, and hopes this will be done "by 5pm today".
His remarks came fast on the heels of outgoing Prime Minister Najib Razak saying an hour earlier that he accepted "the will of the people" but stopping short of admitting defeat.
Dr Mahathir told the 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 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 premier.
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 of noon on Thursday.
The Palace had earlier said that a new premier would not be taking an oath of office on Thursday, despite PH achieving a simple majority after Wednesday's shocking defeat of the Barisan Nasional (BN) in the country's 14th general election, ending the Umno-led pact's six decades in power.
When the room applauded after he said he was the chosen candidate to be prime minister, Dr Mahathir quipped: “You are all clapping. The King is not required to clap, he is required to sign,” referring to the delay in swearing him in as premier.
But he refused to be drawn into discussing his relationship with the king, Sultan Muhammad V, merely saying: "I don't know about (him) not liking me. I have the support of the majority of Members of Parliament."
The former PM also said there has been a delay due to the lack of understanding of the Constitution.
A source close to the Palace told The Straits Times that Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail was given an audience with the King early Thursday morning while Dr Mahathir was making a public announcement that PH had won.
"That was why she was not at the press conference. The Palace would prefer not to hold a swearing-in this week but of course Dr Mahathir has expressed his desire to do it as soon as possible, if not today, then tomorrow," said the source.
It is unclear what was discussed between Datuk Seri Wan Azizah and the King, but with PH planning to free her husband and iconic opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim from a controversial sodomy conviction to become prime minister, Sultan Muhammad V's pardon will be required.
At the press conference, Dr Mahathir 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 renegotiate these deals if necessary.
Later, when posing for photographs, he remarked: "My face is no longer haram (forbidden in Islam). So you don’t have to tear out my face from pictures," referring to new rules during the recent election campaign which barred his face from appearing in publicity materials.