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Thursday
May102018

92-year-old set to become world's oldest elected leader in Malaysia

Mohd Samsul Mohd Said/Getty Images(KUALA LUMPAR, Malaysia) -- A 92-year-old man is poised to become the oldest elected leader in the world when he is sworn in as Malaysia's prime minister on Thursday. Mahathir Mohamad defeated the coalition that has ruled Malaysia for more than six decades in a stunning electoral victory on Wednesday.

“Well, I hope tomorrow we will have a swearing-in ceremony of the prime minister alone," Mohamad told journalists after his win, adding, "If I'm alive."

Mohamad previously served as the country's prime minister from 1981 to 2003.

Malaysia's monarch, Sultan Muhammad, is expected to swear Mohamad in at 9:30 p.m. local time Thursday.

Mohamad's opposition alliance took 113 seats in Wednesday's elections -- one more than needed to form a government. In contrast, the ruling party -- Barisan Nasional -- won 79 seats.

Outgoing Prime Minister Najib Razak has been plagued by accusations of running a kleptocracy following a widespread corruption scandal that has sparked investigations in multiple jurisdictions around the world.

The biggest scandal, uncovered by the Wall Street Journal in 2015, alleges that $3.5 billion from Malaysia’s 1MDB national wealth fund was misappropriated, with $681 million allegedly finding its way into Razak’s personal bank accounts.

Razak has consistently denied the accusations.

In a television statement Thursday following the election results, Razak said he accepted "the choice of the people."

"I accept, and my friends accept," Razak said. "It has been the choice of the people, and the Barisan Nasional party is committed to respecting the principles of democracy."

During his previous time in office, Mohamad was credited with modernizing the country, but he was also seen as authoritarian. He imprisoned political opponents and led a crackdown on the judiciary, sacking the chief justice following several rulings against the government.

In returning to politics from retirement, Mohamad has taken on his former party, the BN, as well as his former protégé, Razak.

Furthermore, Mohamed also joined the campaign under the banner of the People’s Justice Party of Anwar Ibrahim, named after his former deputy who became his political nemesis.

Ibrahim was first imprisoned on the orders of Mohamad’s government in the 1990s on charges of corruption and sodomy -- charges he said were politically motivated. The sodomy charges were brought under a British colonial-era law that many have criticized as being outdated.

Ibrahim was released in 2004 shortly after Mohamad stepped down. But following elections in 2008 in which his opposition party quadrupled its seats in parliament, Ibrahim faced more accusations of sodomy -- this time by a political aide.

Following a trial in 2010, an acquittal and subsequent appeal, Ibrahim found himself back in jail. He is currently not eligible for release until 2020.

More recently, Mohamad has promised that he would stand aside as prime minister after securing both Ibrahim's release from prison and a royal pardon.

On Thursday, Mohamad explained his transition plans for when Ibrahim is released.

“We will work on it. We will work on his pardon. He will be released in June, I think -- 8th of June -- and then we will work for his pardon," Mohamad said. "Once he is pardoned, he is eligible to become a prime minister again, but he will have to stand for election in order to become a member of parliament, because in our country the prime minister has to be a member of parliament first -- or at least a senator."

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