Ninety-two-year-old Mahathir Mohamad was Thursday sworn in as the world’s oldest elected leader after a stunning election win that swept Malaysia’s establishment from power after more than six decades.
In a huge political upset, former strongman Mahathir’s opposition alliance broke the grip on power of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which had governed Malaysia uninterrupted since its birth as an independent country in 1957.
It capped a dramatic comeback for Mahathir, who previously ruled the country at the head of BN for 22 years and came out of retirement to take on his ex-protege, Prime Minister Najib Razak, after the leader became embroiled in a massive corruption scandal.
In a ceremony at the national palace steeped in centuries-old Muslim Malay tradition, Mahathir was officially sworn in as prime minister by King Sultan Muhammad V.
Mahathir, wearing traditional Malay dress, took the oath of office in an elaborately decorated room, with political allies and senior government officials in attendance.
As he was inaugurated, hundreds of revellers outside the palace cheered and sang the national anthem, with some breaking down in tears. Fireworks lit up the night sky across Kuala Lumpur.
“We feel so united tonight,” 24-year-old student Abdul Aziz Hamzah, who was among the crowd, told AFP. “Mahathir is so insightful and experienced because he’s been here before.”
One of the most remarkable aspects of Mahathir’s comeback has been his reconciliation with jailed opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim, his former nemesis. Their relationship has loomed large over the Malaysian political landscape for decades.
Anwar was Mahathir’s heir-apparent until the premier sacked him in 1998 over political differences, and he was subsequently jailed on charges of sodomy and abuse of power.
Anwar was jailed again during Najib’s rule but is due out in June — and Mahathir has pledged to help him get a royal pardon, allowing him to run for political office again and potentially become prime minister.
– ‘Heads must fall’ –
The opposition faced an uphill battle at the election due to what critics said were no-holds-barred attempts by Najib to hang on to power.