DE-FACTO leader of Malaysia’s newly victorious People’s Justice Party (PKR), Anwar Ibrahim, has been freed after gaining a royal pardon for a conviction of sodomy that has kept him in prison for the last three years.
In his first press conference since his release on Wednesday morning, Anwar said he had “forgiven” former prime minister Najib Razak for placing him in prison in 2015. While he held no personal grudge against Najib, he did say the “injustice towards the people, crimes committed against the people, and endemic corruption” still had to be answered for.
He also said he was in no rush to return to parliament, preferring to spend time with his family and carry out lectures at universities around the world to spread the voice of “reason and moderation” of Islam.
The ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, for which PKR is the lead party, plans to make Anwar prime minister once he has successfully won a by-election for a parliamentary seat, making him eligible for the premiership. But it appears this will be delayed as Anwar readjusts and current-PM, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, makes the changes he needs to correct the course of the nation.
At a separate press conference, Dr Mahathir said there will be a meeting of the presidential council tomorrow to decide what role Anwar will play in the party going forward.
Anwar emerged from the Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital at 11.30am local time on Wednesday after Malaysia’s Pardon Board, which included the current King, decided to overturn his conviction, which is widely accepted to be politically motivated.
The royal pardon is crucial for the PKR leader if he wishes to return to politics. Without the pardon, Anwar would have been banned from politics for five years due to having a criminal record.
In a statement, the Comptroller of the Royal Household, Wan Ahmad Dahlan Ab. Aziz said the appeal for a full-fledged pardon for Anwar had been tabled by the Royal Pardon’s board of the federal territories, which included Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, and Labuan.
“In line with article 42 of the constitution, Sultan Muhammad V, on the advice of the pardon’s board of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya has consented that the appeal for full pardon for Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim be allowed along with his immediate release,” the statement read.
Dr Mahathir and Anwar make an unlikely alliance as the 92-year-old former-PM was also the man responsible for putting Anwar in jail the first time around back in 1999 during his first stint in the prime minister’s role between 1981 to 2003.
Anwar served as Dr Mahathir’s deputy and finance minister before being removed from his post and incarcerated on sodomy and corruption charges, which human rights groups and foreign governments criticised as being politically motivated.
After having the conviction overturned in 2004, Anwar became a leading figure in the opposition, a movement that ultimately toppled the 60-year rule of the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) led coalition on Wednesday.
It was a shared desire to remove scandal-ridden Najib that forged the rekindling of relations between Anwar and Dr Mahathir, who came out of retirement to bring down his former protege. Ironically, as Anwar emerges from prison, the prospect of Najib facing prosecution looks increasingly likely.
The former prime minister has been blocked from leaving the country and a complaint has been filed against him to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission alleging he personally blocked an investigation into the US$3.2bn 1MDB scandal.
Despite having the odds stacked against the opposition led by Dr Mahathir, Anwar said he never lost hope.
“I always believed in the wisdom of the people and that if we fought hard enough we would eventually prevail,” he told Fairfax Media in an exclusive interview.
“At a time when democracy is in retreat around the world, I hope that the people of Malaysia have given some hope to people around the world clamouring for their own freedom.”
“The road ahead will challenge the best among us to deliver what we promised to the people,” he said.
Anwar will celebrate his release tonight at Padang Timur where people have been invited to join prayers, hear Pakatan leaders speak, and hear a speech from Anwar, who remains incredibly popular in Malaysia despite his conviction and absence from politics.
Additional reporting by A. Azim Idris