Published: Wed, May 16, 2018
World | By Camille Rivera

Malaysia's reformist icon Anwar Ibrahim freed, given royal pardon

Malaysia's reformist icon Anwar Ibrahim freed, given royal pardon

Malaysia's historic change of government paves the way for an extraordinary comeback for jailed opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim, who played a key role in helping to secure last week's election victory and has become a prime minister-in-waiting.

Earlier, Anwar was thronged by scores of supporters and reporters after he walked free from a hospital, where he was recovering from shoulder surgery, and whisked away to an audience with Malaysia's king.

Their newfound alliance is a stunning turnaround from the 1990s when - on the orders of Dr Mahathir and his government - Mr Anwar was arrested and jailed on charges of corruption and sodomy.

The result is a political natural disaster for Muslim-majority Malaysia, sweeping aside the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose reputation was tarnished by a corruption scandal and the imposition of an unpopular sales tax.

In "an initial stage, maybe lasting one or two years, I will be the prime minister", Mahathir said.

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As part of their arrangement, Mahathir has pledged to step down in a year or two and to help create a path for Anwar to become premier.

PKR secretary-general Datuk Saifuddin Nasution said Anwar was expected to be released after the Pardons Board meets at 11am tomorrow to discuss the application for his release and full pardon.

Anwar and his supporters have long denied the sodomy allegations, saying they were concocted to crush him and his political allies. His wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who heads Anwar's party, is now the new deputy prime minister.

The former prime minister has been blacklisted from leaving the country and on Monday Mahathir announced he would replace the attorney-general who cleared Najib in the 1MDB scandal in 2016 after a royal Saudi family member said the money was a personal donation to Najib.

The volatile relationship between Anwar and Mahathir, from friends to foes to allies, has dominated Malaysia's political landscape for more than three decades and is central to the future of the alliance.

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But in 1998, they disagreed on how to tackle the Asian financial crisis and fell out. He was later produced in court with a black eye from a beating by the police chief.

The process of releasing Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will be carried out at the Rehabilitation Hospital in Cheras here without requiring the PKR de facto leader to be brought back to the Sungai Buloh Prison.

But he eventually joined the anti-government movement that had been energized by his ordeal, using his star power to unite a divided and cowed opposition. He and his supporters have said the charges are politically motivated by Najib to end his career.

The US Justice Department says $4.5 billion was looted from state investment fund 1MBD by associates of Najib between 2009 and 2014, including $700 million that landed in Najib's bank account.

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Najib denies any wrongdoing in connection with losses at the fund.

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