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.