KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Jailed Malaysian reformist Anwar Ibrahim was granted a full pardon yesterday and walked free from a hospital in Kuala Lumpur, capping dramatic changes in the Southeast Asian country since the government was ousted in an election upset last week.
The question for Malaysia now is how Anwar will get along with Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, his ally-turned-foe-turned-ally, and what role he will play in government.
Anwar said yesterday he would support to the government, but would not immediately be part of it.
“I have given my assurance, I am here as a concerned citizen to give complete support to manage the country on the understanding that we are committed to the reform agenda,” Anwar told news conference at his home after he was freed from custody.
Anwar said it was Dr Mahathir’s prerogative to form the Cabinet, but noted he had given assurances that he will consult party leaders.
“I’ve told Tun Mahathir, I don’t need to serve in the Cabinet for now,” he said, using an honorofic for the prime minister.
Anwar, 70, smiled and waved to supporters as he walked out of hospital in a black suit and tie and his hair neatly swept back. He was surrounded by his family, lawyers and prison guards before driving to the palace for an audience with the King.
Supporters chanted “Reformasi” (Reform), the movement he launched two decades ago to challenge diverse Malaysia’s race-and patronage-based politics.
Dr Mahathir, with whom Anwar joined forces to win last Wednesday’s election, was at the palace to greet him.
“Many have asked me how is it that our reform movement has now joined forces with the very same former dictator, Dr Mahathir, who sacked my father in 1998 and saw him arrested, brutalised and incarcerated,” Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah, wrote in an article for the Guardian newspaper in Britain on Tuesday.
“My answer was simply that we must all firmly resolve to never let our nation sink to the depths it did again and prime minister Mahathir now has a rare second chance to put things right.”
On Tuesday, Dr Mahathir said he expected to be prime minister for one or two more years, setting off talk of differences between the two.
But Anwar’s wife and deputy prime minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail told reporters later that Anwar was in no hurry to be prime minister.
“I think we need to let Mahathir do his work to save Malaysia and to get back its system of government.”
Dr Mahathir is leader of the ruling alliance and Anwar’s People’s Justice Party (PKR) won the majority of parliamentary seats in the group.
Dr Mahathir is also racing ahead with an investigation into graft at 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state fund founded by the ousted Najib that lies sunk in a multi-billion-dollar graft scandal.
Dr Mahathir has replaced the attorney-general and officials at the anti-graft agency, in what appears to be a purge of people seen close to the former premier.
Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, have been barred from leaving the country. Najib denies wrongdoing.
In a related development, Dr Mahathir said Malaysia was committed to pay any debt linked to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), if it was guaranteed by the government.
The newly appointed 92-year-old prime minister also said Malaysia would reach out to Switzerland, the United States, Singapore and Luxembourg to return any 1MDB funds they may have received.
Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong will pay a courtesy call on Dr Mahathir in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.