Mahathir Mohamad, 92, on course to be world's oldest elected leader after shock win in Malaysia

Mahathir Mohamad will become oldest prime minister in the world - AP
Mahathir Mohamad will become oldest prime minister in the world - AP

Mahathir Mohamad is set to become the world's oldest prime minster after his opposition party was declared the winner of a fractious general election on Thursday.

After a short and bitter campaign marred by corruption allegations, Mr Mohamad, 92, defeated his former mentor in a major political upset that overturns the government’s 60-year rule, official results showed.

Najib Razak, the incumbent prime minister, had been widely expected to lose the popular vote but to win the most number of seats in parliament in a first-past-the-post system that opponents claimed was weighted in favour of his ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

Instead the election result went down to the wire after a formidable challenge by former political strongman, Mahathir Mohamad, 92, who ruled Malaysia for 22 years and who pulled himself out of retirement to fight a prime minister he claimed was tainted by a multibillion dollar graft scandal.

Official results from the Election Commission showed that Mahathir's opposition grouping Pakatan Harapan, along with a small ally, had secured 121 parliamentary seats. 112 are needed to form a government.

Mahathir Mohamad, celebrates at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur - Credit: AP
Mahathir Mohamad, celebrates at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur Credit: AP

BN got 79 seats - a dramatic drop from the 133 they held previously.

The elections were dominated by an investigation into allegations that billions were siphoned from a state investment fund, 1MDB, and laundered through foreign bank accounts. But the prime minister has consistently denied any wrongdoing and has been cleared of any offence by Malaysia’s attorney general.  

"We are not seeking revenge, we want to restore the rule of law," Mahathir told reporters, as he declared victory.

A win means for Dr Mahathir would make him the world’s oldest elected government leader. But in one of the biggest U-turns of his 70-year career in politics, he has signalled he is ready to hand over power to Anwar Ibrahim, an opposition icon who he sacked as his deputy in the 1990s.

Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad election interview puff

Mr Anwar is currently serving time in jail after being convicted of sodomy, in a case his opposition party claim was created to curb their rise in popularity. He will be released in June.

Mr Najib said he accepted the will of the people.

"I accept the verdict of the people," the leader, who looked shattered after his coalition's defeat, said.

But he did not make a clear concession, and added that it was up to the nation's king to decide who would become the next prime minister as no single party had won a majority parliament.

Analysts warned he could be trying to buy time to win defections from other parties over to his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, in what would be a desperate bid to cling to power despite a landslide defeat.

Despite the shock result there were no reports of trouble on the streets, where pockets of celebration erupted overnight.

A flag-waving crowd of supporters gathered on a field outside the headquarters of Mahathir's party near Kuala Lumpur.

"The time for change has come, and I hope the people in power realise this," said Asifa Hanifah, a young woman who joined thousands of opposition supporters in central Kuala Lumpur who waved flags, cheered and honked car horns.

Malaysian police officers fire tear gas towards opposition party supporters in Putrajaya - Credit: AP
Malaysian police officers fire tear gas towards opposition party supporters in Putrajaya Credit: AP

Suva Selvan, a 48-year-old doctor, said he felt the country had just won its independence.

"I feel that with this change we probably can see something better in the future... our hope for the future is a better government, fair, free and united," he told AFP.

Dr Mahathir raised the suspicion of foul play by the election commission for being slow to declare the results as he claimed the victory before official results were announced.

“The likelihood is that they (Barison Nasional) would not be forming the government,” he told a press conference. “We believe certain meetings are being held. And we worry what’s the intention of these meetings.”

He added: “We hope and pray that the people respect law and order. This is very serious.”

Supporters of Mahathir Mohamad, cheer as they watch live televised result announcement o - Credit: Getty
Supporters of Mahathir Mohamad, cheer as they watch live televised result announcement o Credit: Getty

Dr Mahathir alleged that the election commission was “holding back the results” and not doing their duty. “The time is very late now. By now we would know who’s wining or losing. But there’s a deliberate attempt to delay by not signing the form,” he said.

The election commission denied they were sitting on the results, and said the final tally could take several hours.

If elected, Dr Mahathir has said he will overturn a controversial 6% goods and services tax, which has been widely blamed for rising living costs, and has counted as a black mark against the government.