KUALA LUMPUR: The coalition of Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was running neck and neck with a rival bloc led by a former prime minister in a tight election race, vote counts showed early on Sunday.
Analysts have warned that the multi-racial country could face further political instability if no group emerges with a clear majority after Saturday’s polls and frenzied horse-trading talks ensue.
One of the biggest casualties so far is former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, 97, who was roundly defeated in his constituency.
Anwar campaigned on a promise to fight corruption in Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy, where people are struggling with soaring food prices, and where the graft-tainted party of jailed ex-prime minister Najib Razak had been hoping to cement its grip on power.
Veteran politician Mahathir faces defeat at polls
But official results from the election commission so far showed Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition in a tight race with Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance) of ex-premier Muhyiddin Yassin.
The ruling Barisan Nasional bloc dominated by Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UNMO) was trailing behind.Mahathir Mohamad, the 97-year-old elder statesman of Malaysian politics, lost his parliamentary seat, likely ending the career of one of Asia’s most enduring politicians.
Mahathir came in fourth in a five-way fight in his long-held constituency in the holiday resort island of Langkawi, the country’s election commission said.
It was his first electoral defeat in more than half a century.
Mahathir held the Guinness World Record for being the “world’s oldest current prime minister” when he became premier for a second time in 2018 just two months shy of his 93rd birthday.
Visibly slowed by age but still looking healthy, he ran this time around under his own Homeland Fighters’ Party and had laughed off suggestions he should retire, telling reporters before the election he had a “good chance” of winning. “I’m still standing around and talking to you, I think, making reasonable answers,” Mahathir said.Mahathir has been criticised for ruling the Southeast Asian nation with an iron fist from 1981 to 2003 but is also hailed for helping transform the country from a sleepy backwater into one of the world’s top exporters of high-tech goods.
Mahathir’s long leadership provided political stability and he gained the title of “Father of Modern Malaysia” as he oversaw the construction of highways and industrial parks in the 1980s and 1990s.
He came out of his 15-year retirement to lead the opposition Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition in the 2018 polls amid voter anger over then incumbent Najib’s role in the massive financial scandal at state fund 1MDB.
The reformist bloc won a stunning victory over UMNO and Najib, who was later convicted of corruption and is currently serving a 12-year jail sentence.
Mahathir became premier again but his government collapsed in less than two years due to infighting. He has warned that Najib would be freed if the jailed politician’s allies in UMNO win.
He also offered to become prime minister a third time, but observers said he had no chance from the beginning.
Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2022