Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia`s Mahathir Mohamad said the opposition alliance he leads had won enough parliament seats in Wednesday`s general election to form the next government, but the count was continuing and official results so far did not back his claim.
The Election Commission sought to tamp down speculation about the outcome, but thousands of supporters of the Southeast Asian country`s 92-year-old former leader did not wait to celebrate, cheering and honking horns in central Kuala Lumpur.
Several key roads in the heart of the capital were blocked off by police amid growing evidence that Prime Minister Najib Razak`s coalition was on the back foot and could lose power for the first time since Malaysia`s independence six decades ago.
His party postponed an evening news conference until Thursday morning and said Najib, who has ruled the Southeast Asian country for nearly 10 years, would address the media at 11:00 (03:00 GMT) on Thursday.
The Election Commission said some results that had gone "viral" were unofficial and had not been verified.
"Of course, political parties can declare whoever (they believe has won), but ... please wait," commission Chairman Mohd Hashim Abdullah told reporters shortly after midnight. "We would like to announce it as quickly as possible as well."
Official results showed that, so far, Mahathir`s Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) had won 90 of parliament`s 222 seats and Najib`s ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN), had won 69.
A simple majority of 112 seats is required by a party or alliance to rule, a number Mahathir said his party believed it had won.
"The likelihood is that they will not be forming the government," he told reporters, referring to Najib`s coalition.
Early results showed that BN had lost seats in key states that have traditionally been its strongholds, underlining public disenchantment with the government over the cost of living and a multi-billion-dollar scandal that has dogged Najib since 2015.
"We still need to wait for the official results to come in," said Keith Leong, head of research at the KRA Group consultancy.
"However, the signs point to unprecedented losses to the ruling BN. The only thing that is certain is that we are entering new and uncharted terrain politically. We are witnessing history being made in this country."
Malaysia`s majority ethnic-Malay Muslims have long tended to support BN for affirmative-action policies that give them government contracts, cheap housing and guaranteed university admissions.
Mahathir`s alliance, which counts on urban votes and support from the minority ethnic-Chinese and Indian communities, hoped that with the Malay veteran leader as its standard bearer it would draw in voters traditionally loyal to BN.
"There has been a significant shift in the Malay vote," said Rashaad Ali, an analyst with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
Mahathir is a polarising figure and many voters are suspicious of him because of his authoritarian rule as PM between 1981 and 2003.
But 64-year-old Najib`s popularity dropped sharply over the past three years, partly due to a scandal over 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state fund from which billions of dollars were allegedly siphoned off.
Mahathir was once Najib`s mentor but he left their United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party over the 1MDB affair and joined the opposition to bring him down.
US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions has described the scandal at the fund set up by Najib as the worst form of kleptocracy. The US Department of Justice has filed several lawsuits to seize more than $1.7 billion in assets believed to have been stolen from 1MDB.
Najib, who was chairman of 1MDB`s advisory board, has denied any wrongdoing and has been cleared of any offence by Malaysia`s attorney general.