Malaysian political leader Anwar Ibrahim walked free from jail on Wednesday, paving the way for him to eventually become prime minister after an opposition alliance routed the country’s ruling coalition in a shock election result last week.
Mr Anwar, 70, emerged to a rapturous welcome at 11.30am, before heading to an audience with King Sultan Muhammad V, who had granted him a pardon.
He was imprisoned for sodomy in 2015 during the rule of Najib Razak, the now ousted prime minister. The opposition leader and his People’s Justice Party claimed the charges had been fabricated to curb their rise after making historic gains in the 2013 elections.
He was due to be released in June, but his freedom has been expeditedafter an election win by the Pakatan Harapan coalition led by Mr Anwar’s former political nemesis Mahathir Mohamad, 92.
In a bizarre twist, Mr Anwar’s party joined forces with Dr Mahathir, a former authoritarian prime minister who held power for 22 years, to defeat the six-decade rule of Mr Najib’s Barisan Nasional coalition, which they claimed had been marred by corruption.
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Mr Anwar was once heir-apparent to the premiership until Dr Mahathir sacked him in 1998. He was subsequently jailed for sodomy and abuse of power in a case he claimed was politically motivated and the US denounced a “show trial.”
Throughout the fractious election campaign, Dr Mahathir pledged to hand over the top job to Mr Anwar after he was released. He has since confirmed his intention to do so, although he expects to remain in power for one or two years first.
“I regret that he was jailed but that is not something that I did. It was the court,” Dr Mahathir said in an interview with the Telegraph in April. “He seems to be a very charismatic leader. He can gather a lot of support.”
Ahead of his release, Mr Anwar told Australia’s Fairfax Media that a new “golden era” was afoot.
“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,” he said.
His daughter, Nurul Izzah, who was reelected last week, said he was “exhilarated”, reported Channel News Asia.
“It’s been so long that we’ve been craving not just freedom but justice,” she said after visiting her father in hospital. “Please remember we submitted a petition for a pardon based on a miscarriage of justice so the pardon comes to completely validate his innocence. To that end it’s a wonderful day for us.”
In an earlier Telegraph interview, Ms Izzah spoke of the devastating impact his imprisonment had had on the family.
“He’s an incorrigible optimist,” she said. “I’ve never seen anyone else so mentally strong and very much focused on the future of the country.”
But his jail time was “not something I would wish on anyone,” she added. “Of course it’s taken its toll..I’ve been in this for 20 years so sometimes it does get to you,” she said.
“My younger sister was six when we had to go to prison for the first time, and now my daughter has started going to prison to visit her grandfather at six years old. So it crosses two generations.”