Malaysian ‘Mandela’ Anwar Ibrahim walks free from prison after royal pardon

Jailed former opposition leader and current federal opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (R) with his wife Wan Azizah (L) greet the supporters during a rally in Kuala Lumpur on May 16, 2018. Reformist Anwar Ibrahim declared a "new dawn for Malaysia" on May 16 after his release from prison transformed him into a potential prime minister following his alliance's stunning election victory. / AFP / Roslan RAHMAN
Updated 17 May 2018
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Malaysian ‘Mandela’ Anwar Ibrahim walks free from prison after royal pardon

KUALA LUMPUR: Anwar Ibrahim, the long-term imprisoned Malaysian politician, was released from prison on Wednesday after receiving a royal pardon from the Malaysian king.
Dressed in a suit and freshly shaven, Anwar Ibrahim put on his biggest smile as he left the Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital.
Outside of the hospital, crowds of supporters were awaiting the de-facto People’s Justice Party (Keadilan) leader. Ibrahim was greeted with cheers and chants of “Reformasi,” or reformation.
Among the people to cheer him was Azha Nizam, 23, a young Keadilan supporter from the state of Sarawak. He had boarded a flight the night before in the hope of witnessing the historic day. He was accompanied by three of his friends, also from East Malaysia.
“I feel happy, I believe Anwar (Ibrahim) will make the country more progressive,” Nizam said.
His friend, Mohammed Asseri, 25, told Arab News that “during Najib’s era, Malaysia was well-known in the media with stories about 1MDB.”
Asseri was referring to the scandal in Malaysia in which $700 million of 1MDB state funds went missing under the Najib Razak administration.
Anwar Ibrahim has been in the political wilderness since his sacking by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in 1998. He has been in and out of prison for politically motivated sodomy charges for most of the past two decades.
Despite that, Anwar propelled the reformation movement in the early 2000s and the formation in 1999 of the Keadilan party, which is currently headed by his wife, Wan Azizah.
Anwar Ibrahim was greeted by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad upon his arrival at the Royal Palace, where he also met with the Malaysian king. Later at a press conference, the newly freed leader said prison authorities had told him that his criminal record had been erased.
Anwar Ibrahim will lend his full support to the Malaysian prime minister and his government to ensure the reform agenda is carried out effectively.
“I feel happy (about Anwar’s prison release) because he fights for the people and the nation,” the long-time supporter of Keadilan and the reformation movement, Wan Ishak, 57, told Arab News.
He added that the government needs to prioritize the people in its reform agenda: “If the people’s rights are not protected, how will (the people) be able to live well?”
Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s surprise comeback in this year’s national polls has opened the door for the prime ministership of Anwar Ibrahim. The premier has promised to hand over power to Anwar after two years, to which Anwar agreed.
“He (Dr. Mahathir Mohamad) has no choice,” Dr. Oh Ei Sun, senior adviser to the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute, told Arab News. He said that the people who voted for the Alliance of Hope (PH) as the new government would expect Anwar Ibrahim to continue his reform agenda.
“It will be interesting to see how his interactions with Dr. M will be as he re-enters politics,” Dr. Oh said.
Dr. Greg Lopez, Malaysia expert at Western Australia’s Murdoch University, told Arab News that one of Anwar Ibrahim’s biggest challenges would be managing the interests of coalitions parties.
The Alliance of Hope consists of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the People’s Justice Party (Keadilan), the National Trust Party (Amanah) and the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (BERSATU).
In East Malaysia the Sabah Heritage Party (Warisan) and a few of the independent parties have given their allegiance to the new government.
“While Mahathir as prime minister would be the case of the smallest party (in terms of parliamentary seats) leading the coalition, when Anwar Ibrahim becomes PM it would be the case of the largest party leading the coalition,” Dr. Lopez said.
“The ‘Reformasi Agenda’ was central to Malaysians voting for change. It would be a remiss if Anwar Ibrahim failed to deliver on his two decades’ campaign for reforms in Malaysia,” he said.


Trump-Kim summit in play as Moon visits White House

Updated 47 min 31 sec ago
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Trump-Kim summit in play as Moon visits White House

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump holds a high-stakes meeting with South Korea’s president at the White House Tuesday, talks that could decide whether the US president’s much-vaunted summit with the North’s leader Kim Jong Un goes ahead.
Moon Jae-in jets into Washington on a mission to salvage a rare diplomatic opening between the US and North Korea that is in trouble almost before it begins.
Trump had agreed to meet inscrutable “Supreme Leader” Kim in Singapore on June 12, but the first-ever US-North Korea summit is now in serious doubt, with both sides expressing reservations.
South Korea — worried about Kim’s bellicose weapons testing and Trump’s similarly bellicose warnings about a looming war — was instrumental in convincing the two Cold War foes to sit down and talk.
Moon sent his own national security adviser to the White House in March, carrying an offer of talks and word that North Korea may be willing to abandon nuclear weapons, an enticing prospect.
Trump surprised his guests, his own aides and the world by summarily accepting the meeting, seeing an opportunity to “do a deal” and avoid military confrontation.
Pyongyang is on the verge of marrying nuclear and missile technology allowing it to hit the continental United States with a nuke, a capability Washington sees as wholly unacceptable.
Since then, there has been a landmark series of intra-Korean meetings, two trips to Pyongyang by Mike Pompeo — first as CIA director then as America’s top diplomat — and three American citizens have been released from the North.
But after several Trumpian victory laps, North Korea’s willingness to denuclearize is now in serious doubt.
Earlier this month, North Korea denounced US demands for “unilateral nuclear abandonment” and canceled at the last minute a high-level meeting with the South in protest over joint military drills between Seoul and Washington.
Trump responded by saying the meeting may or may not take place.
Vice President Mike Pence warned in an interview on Monday night that there was “no question” that Trump would be prepared to walk away from the talks with Kim if it looks like they won’t yield results and that the president was not just after a public relations triumph.
Pence said that both the Clinton and Bush administrations “got played” by North Korea when Washington previously tried to get Pyongyang to denuclearize but the current administration would not make the same mistakes.
“It would be a great mistake for Kim Jong Un to think he could play Donald Trump,” he told Fox News.
Trump also surprised many by offering Kim an upfront security guarantee, allowing him to stay in power, and suggested that Kim’s apparent about-face may have been at the behest of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“It could very well be that he’s influencing Kim Jong Un,” Trump said, citing a recent meeting between the pair, their second in a month’s time. “We’ll see what happens.”
Analysts saw North Korea’s perceived slow peddling as evidence of what they feared all along, that Pyongyang may have been playing for time — hoping to ease sanctions and “maximum pressure” or of South Korea overtorquing the prospects of a deal.
“The current episode of tension reflects a wide and dangerous expectation gap between the United States and North Korea,” said Eric Gomez of the CATO Institute.
“Denuclearization is not off the table for the North, but it expects the United States to end the so-called ‘hostile policy’ as a precondition for denuclearization.”
It is far from clear what that means concretely, but it could include the forced withdrawal of 30,000 US troops from the Korean peninsula.
With just weeks to go and little clarity on what will be discussed or what happens if talks fail, some Korea watchers predict fireworks during Trump’s talks with Moon.
“It increasingly looks like the Moon administration overstated North Korea’s willingness to deal. Moon will probably get an earful over that,” said Robert Kelly of Pusan National University.
Yonhap news agency quoted a Blue House official as saying Moon would “likely tell President Trump what to expect and what not to expect from Kim.”