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Malaysian king to pardon Anwar

AFP, KUALA LUMPUR

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim smiles as he leaves the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on Nov. 3, 2014.

Photo: EPA

The king has agreed to pardon Anwar Ibrahim immediately, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday, paving the way for the jailed leader to return to politics and potentially become prime minister.

It was the latest dramatic development after Mahathir’s alliance inflicted a shock defeat on the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, ending the corruption-riddled regime’s six-decade stranglehold on power.

Mahathir — who had retired in 2003 as prime minister, but made a comeback in a bid to oust the coalition he once headed — was sworn in on Thursday, becoming the world’s oldest elected leader at 92.

Mahathir, who had ruled with an iron fist for more than two decades, cut ties with BN due to allegations that the coalition’s leader and his former protege Najib Razak oversaw the pillaging of sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

The elderly politician joined forces with parties that opposed him while in power and agreed that if elected he would hand over to Anwar, his former nemesis and leading member of the People’s Justice Party.

The party is in the alliance that won power in the hard-fought election.

Mahathir previously said he would likely remain prime minister for two to three years, before transferring power to Anwar.

One of Malaysia’s most charismatic politicians, Anwar was heir-apparent to Mahathir until he was sacked in 1998 and then jailed for sodomy and abuse of power.

Anwar and Mahathir’s stormy relationship has loomed large over Malaysia’s political landscape for two decades, but in a remarkable turnaround the pair reconciled and joined forces as allegations mounted over 1MDB and Najib became increasingly authoritarian, jailing opponents and introducing laws to stifle dissent.

Anwar, now 70, was jailed again in 2015 during Najib’s rule — after making historic gains as the head of the opposition in the 2013 elections — and had been due to be released next month.

Mahathir told a news conference that Malaysian King Sultan Muhammad V, in a meeting with opposition leaders, had agreed to grant Anwar a royal pardon.

“The [king] has indicated he is willing to pardon Datuk Sri Anwar immediately,” Mahathir told a news conference, using a Malay honorific to refer to Anwar.

The royal pardon would mean he could return to politics straight away.

“He should be released immediately when he is pardoned,” Mahathir added.

It was not clear when Anwar, who is currently in hospital for treatment to his shoulder, would be freed.

In a statement, Anwar thanked “the people of Malaysia for their courage in making a change which is a victory for the people.”

“The new government vows to uphold democracy, justice and human rights for all,” said the statement, delivered by People’s Justice Party vice president Tian Chua, who was visiting the leader in hospital.

Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, president of Anwar’s party and his wife, said the process to have him freed was already under way.

Meanwhile, speculation was mounting about Najib’s future, with a senior member of his party, former Malaysian minister of youth and sports Khairy Jamaluddin, calling for “big changes” to be made without delay.

Najib has been battered by a massive financial scandal, in which he was accused of overseeing the plunder of billions of US dollars from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

He and the fund deny any wrongdoing.

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