KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, who led the ruling National Front coalition to a historic election loss, conceded defeat on Thursday and said the country’s king will appoint a new premier.
At a televised news conference, Najib said, “I and my colleagues accept the verdict of the people.” He said the National Front “will honor the principle of democracy in the parliament.”
Opposition parties, led by 92-year-old former authoritarian leader Mahathir Mohamad, tapped into anger over a corruption scandal involving Najib and new taxes to end the National Front’s 60-year hold on power.
Because no single party won a majority in the election, Najib said the country’s king will have responsibility for appointing the next prime minister.
“The National Front will respect whatever decision is made by the king,” he said. “I urge all Malaysians to be calm and to trust the king’s wisdom to make the best choice.”
Mahathir earlier said the opposition had been contacted by a representative of the monarchy to acknowledge its victory. He said a new prime minister would be sworn in within a day.
Supporters of the incoming government took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur to celebrate their unexpected victory.
People stood on roadsides waving the white, blue and red flag of the opposition alliance that triumphed in Wednesday’s election. Cars honked their horns as they sped past.
“I’m so happy,” said Zarini Najibuddin while waving the opposition flag. “I hope we’ll have a better Malaysia now. Malaysia reborn!”
Mahathir was credited with modernizing Malaysia during his 22-year rule that ended in 2003 but was also known as a heavy-handed leader who imprisoned opponents and subjugated the courts.
Angered by the graft scandal at state investment fund 1MDB, Mahathir emerged from political retirement and joined the opposition in an attempt to oust Najib, his former protege.
The U.S. Justice Department says $4.5 billion was looted from 1MBD by associates of Najib between 2009 and 2014, including $700 million that landed in Najib’s bank account. He has denied wrongdoing.