KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Mahathir Mohamed, who presided over an era of strongman rule in Malaysia a generation ago, was sworn in again as the country’s prime minister Thursday, defusing a potential constitutional crisis and ousting the coalition that has run the nation for decades.
Despite the verdict of voters, who officials said gave Mahathir’s coalition an outright majority in Parliament, the entrenched government of Prime Minister Najib Razak appeared for much of the day to be holding out hope that Malaysia’s monarch might refrain from asking Mahathir to form a government.
As the leader of a broad opposition coalition, united primarily by outrage over the towering list of corruption accusations against Najib, Mahathir has promised to rebuild government institutions and fight corruption. He has also vowed to lead a more inclusive government beyond the country’s ethnic Malay Muslim majority that Najib catered to.
But even as Mahathir announced a democratic victory early Thursday, the country’s political fate was temporarily in the hands of its king, Sultan Muhammad V.
Under the Malaysian Constitution, the mostly ceremonial and rotating role of monarch is still empowered to swear in new prime ministers — and hours after the election results were made official, the king still had not moved to do it.
The final announcement did not come until after 9:30 p.m. Thursday.
At his morning news conference, Mahathir pledged to seek a royal pardon for former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is now serving his second prison sentence for sodomy and is scheduled to be released in June.
He was once Mahathir’s deputy prime minister and Anwar’s supporters hope he can someday become prime minister himself. But he must have a royal pardon before he can run for Parliament again.
For now, Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, is expected to be deputy prime minister, the second-highest post in the new government.
Mahathir has also said he would clear the way for the criminal prosecution of Najib, who is accused of taking hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.