Mahathir Mohamad, 92 years old, who ruled Malaysia with an iron fist from 1981 to 2003, is set to become the oldest elected leader in the world.
His alliance of four parties beat trounced the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was once Mahathir’s protege but became his most bitter rival. Najib is 64 years old.
It was an electoral upset, but not unexpected, over the coalition that has ruled the Southeast Asian nation for six decades since independence from Britain.
“There is an urgency here, we need to form the government now, today,” Mahathir told a news conference, where he insisted that he would be sworn in as prime minister later on Thursday.
Malaysia’s constitutional monarch has granted Mahathir an audience at 5:00 p.m. (0900 GMT), a leader from his Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) told Reuters.
Earlier on Thursday, Najib appeared to raise doubts that Mahathir would immediately take office because no single party had won a simple majority of seats in the 222-member parliament, and it would be up to the monarch to decide.
Official results showed that Mahathir’s coalition won 113 seats, one more than the number required to rule. But it has not been formally registered as an alliance.
In jubilant mood and cracking jokes, Mahathir dismissed any doubts he would be prime minister. “I got up late, lots of people got up late,” he replied when asked why there was a delay in swearing him in, noting that the election result was only officially announced around 5 a.m.
He said he had been assured of support from a raft of parties that would give his government 135 members of parliament.
Malaysian markets were closed and will reopen only on Monday, but overseas investors were nervous about the ouster of Najib, who has been in power for nearly a decade. The ringgit lost four percent in offshore trading, while an overseas Malaysian equity fund showed a 6 percent drop in share values.
“This upset ranks up there with Brexit and the Trump election,” said Aninda Mitra, a senior sovereign analyst at BNY Mellon Investment Management. “I believe the ringgit will come under pressure as policy continuity will come under a cloud.”
The Malaysian central bank held its regular policy meeting as scheduled on Thursday, and kept the key overnight interest rate unchanged at 3.25 percent. The date for the meeting had been decided before the election was announced.
Mahathir repeated a promise to repeal a goods and services tax (GST) introduced by Najib and review foreign investments, including major infrastructure projects that are part of China’s Belt and Road initiative.
Global ratings agency Moody’s said some of his campaign promises, including scrapping GST and a reintroduction of fuel subsidies, could be credit-negative for Malaysia’s sovereign debt rating.
Najib’s BN coalition won 79 seats, a collapse from the 133 it won in the 2013 election, which was itself the coalition’s worst poll performance ever at the time.
Few had expected Mahathir to prevail against a coalition that has long relied on the support of the country’s ethnic-Malay majority.
However, he joined hands with jailed political leader Anwar Ibrahim, his one-time deputy he famously fell out with in 1998, and together their alliance exploited public disenchantment over the cost of living and a multi-billion-dollar scandal that has dogged Najib since 2015.