Mahathir Mohamad was on Thursday sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister following his sensational election victory over the coalition that has ruled the South-east Asian nation for six decades since independence from Britain.
Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, Sultan Muhammad V, administered the oath of office just before 10 p.m. (1400 GMT), in a ceremony carried live on state television from the palace and followed around the world.
Mahathir, 92, dressed in a traditional black “baju melayu” tunic and sarong, with an Islamic cap on his head, becomes the oldest elected leader in the world.
Hundreds of Malaysians were lined up on the road leading to the palace, waving party flags and cheering.
There was consternation in the capital over the time taken to swear in the new prime minister after the Election Commission announced the result long before dawn.
Official results showed that Mahathir’s coalition won 121 seats, comfortably over the 112 required to rule, but it has not been formally registered as an alliance.
“There is an urgency here, we need to form the government now, today,” Mahathir told a news conference earlier in the day, where he insisted that he would be sworn in.
Mahathir ruled Malaysia with an iron fist from 1981 to 2003, while he came out of retirement to take on his former protege, Najib Razak, who was prime minister for nearly a decade.
Mahathir’s alliance of four parties floored Najib’s Barisan Nasional (BN), the first time it had ever lost an election.
His political career has spanned more than 70 years since he first joined a newly formed United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in 1946, before forming his own party Malaysian United Indigenous Party in 2016.
During his rule, Malaysia experienced a period of rapid modernisation and economic growth, and his government initiated a series of bold infrastructure projects, but his accumulation of power came at the expense of the independence of the judiciary and the traditional powers and privileges of Malaysia’s royalty.
He was an advocate of third-world development and a prominent international activist, but his record of curbing civil liberties and his antagonism towards western interests made his relationships with the U.S., UK and Australia, among others, difficult.