Malaysia's most charismatic dissident Anwar Ibrahim -- released two months ago from jail -- kicked off his political comeback yesterday, vowing to restart a campaign for democratic reforms and racial equality.
"Don't think that just because Anwar Ibrahim is free, everything is settled," Anwar said in a speech to more than 1,000 supporters who gathered at his house to welcome him from his foreign trip.
"The release of Anwar is the beginning of a new chapter. In this chapter we must defend the fate of all people in Malaysia and ensure that our leaders are not arrogant and greedy," said the former deputy prime minister.
In a sign that the government was tightening the noose on his political comeback, police set up road blocks on all major roads to prevent Anwar supporters from going to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport where he arrived early yesterday after almost two months in Germany and Saudi Arabia. The government also refused to permit a welcome rally at a soccer stadium.
But an estimated 1,000 followers who managed to sneak past the blockade cheered loudly and chanted "Reformasi," the slogan of his political reform movement, as he slowly walked out of the terminal, holding the hand of his wife, Azizah Ismail.
"I am very happy to be back home. I will push forward my agenda for reform and work hard for the people," Anwar, 57, said, smiling broadly and wearing a garland of flowers someone had thrown around his neck.
Anwar, however, promised not to take to the streets as he did in 1998 after being fired from the government and the ruling United Malays National Organization party during a power struggle with then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, his former mentor and longtime colleague.
Anwar was subsequently arrested, tried and sentenced to 15 years in jail on sodomy and corruption charges.
The sodomy charge was overturned by a court and he was freed from jail on Sept. 2 as he had already served his corruption conviction. He went to Germany on Sept. 4 for back surgery and later to Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage.
The corruption conviction means he cannot hold a public post until 2008 although he has been named special adviser to the opposition People's Justice Party that Anwar's wife started when he was in jail.
Anwar told his supporters at his house that he would seek out a meeting with Mahathir's successor, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who completed one year in office yesterday.
The meeting would be to discuss "a new approach in Malaysian politics with the agenda of change and reform," Anwar said, taking a conciliatory approach to his former colleagues turned political foes.
"Our struggle remains, our fight remains. My agenda is to bring change and reform," said Anwar. He praised Abdullah for initiating several democratic changes such as less interference in the judiciary and the press, but stressed that "our problems remain plenty."
"We want to create a Malaysia that truly stands for justice and goes beyond the interests of just one race or party. We will need the support of everyone," Anwar said, referring to the government's policy of giving special privileges to the Malays over Chinese and Indians.
He said his main concerns were the large gap between the rich and the poor, race relations and corruption. He also made it clear that he has no intention of joining UMNO.