Jailed Malaysian leader Anwar Ibrahim walks free after royal pardon

Geneva Stokes
May 16, 2018

Imprisoned Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim received a royal pardon on Wednesday, opening the way for him to possibly one day become prime minister.

The volatile relationship between Mahathir and Anwar has dominated Malaysia's political landscape for over three decades and is central to the future of the alliance.

Anwar was Mahathir's deputy in the 1990s but fell out with his mentor during the Asian financial crisis.

"My children were quite young during the earlier period of incarceration [from 1999 to 2003] and that was a hard period for them and [his wife, new deputy prime minister Wan] Azizah", he said.

The second 'sodomy ' case against Anwar Ibrahim began in 2008.

That conviction is viewed by many as having been orchestrated by Najib's government to neutralise Anwar's rising political threat.

He is prime minister-in-waiting but unlikely to take over quickly from Mahathir. After he was sacked, Anwar was arrested, convicted and jailed on corruption and sodomy charges.

In a drama that earned worldwide scorn, Anwar was brought into court with a black eye after a beating from the country's police chief.

Mahathir ruled Malaysia from 1981 to 2003.

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In late 2016, Mahathir came out of retirement, prompted by the massive corruption then evident in the government, and joined the opposition coalition led by Anwar's wife Wan Azizah, to blast Najib out of office.

Mahathir, 92, had vowed to enable Anwar's release and eventually step aside for him to become the prime minister.

"Whether he will immediately join the cabinet or not will be decided when the time comes", Mahathir said.

The de facto leader of PKR said he had remained active behind the scenes in Malaysian politics over the past few years. In a statement Sunday, Anwar reiterated his party's support for Mahathir's leadership but called for decisions to be made jointly.

As he left the hospital, Anwar waved at the large crowd of journalists and supporters gathered outside the facility but did not say anything to them.

Anwar was freed in 2004 but in 2015, he was jailed again - for five years - for sodomizing a former aide, a charge he and his supporters describe as a politically motivated attempt by Najib to end his career. "There will be no special powers given except as are given to ministers or deputy ministers or deputy prime ministers", Mahathir said.

Separately, Malaysia and six countries are investigating defeated prime minster Najim over corruption at the state fund 1MDB.

Earlier, state news agency Bernama and other media reported that a former official of the anti-graft agency, MACC, had lodged a report against Najib on suspicion of blocking probes in cases involving 1MDB and a government pension fund.

"It looks very likely that Najib will face the full force of the law", said Adib Zalkapli, a Kuala Lumpur-based analyst with risk consultancy Vriens & Partners. Mahathir, Malaysia's father of modernisation, has to reinforce a sense of national identity and pride he was once known to have instilled in his countrymen.

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