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Malaysia Opposition Leader Claims Win Ahead of Official Tally

Malaysian opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad says his alliance has captured enough parliamentary seats in Wednesday’s general election to form the next government, but the country’s election commission declined to comment until all votes have been counted.

“Political parties can declare whoever [they believe has won], but … please wait,” commission chairman Mohd Hashim Abdullah told reporters early Thursday in the capital of Kuala Lumpur. “We would like to announce [the results] as soon as possible.”

The commission’s official vote counts, which are lagging behind unofficial tallies, showed Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) had won 52 of 222 seats. Prime Minister Najib Razak’s long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition nabbed 42 seats. A simple majority of 112 seats is need by a party or alliance.

Mahathir, the 92-year-old former prime minister, ruled Malaysia with an iron fist between 1981 and 2003. Najib has been scarred by a massive financial scandal involving the state-owned investment fund 1MDB, which the prime minister oversaw, as well as an unpopular sales tax that has affected the rural poor.

Mahathir has joined forces with his former deputy, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently jailed on a sodomy conviction, to challenge Najib.

Analysts had expected the Barisan Nasional, which has ruled Malaysia ever since independence in 1957, to lose the popular vote for the second straight election. But it could still win a majority of parliamentary seats after the government redrew the electoral system that critics say heavily separated voters between BN supporters and opponents.

Wednesday’s voting has been overshadowed by accusations leveled by both sides that their cellphones had been flooded with constant “spam” calls from overseas, blocking their efforts to communicate with their campaign workers.

The first results are expected to be announced late Wednesday, and continue coming in through early Thursday morning.