Jailed Malaysian reformist Anwar Ibrahim was granted a full pardon and freed on Wednesday, capping dramatic changes in the Southeast Asian country since the government was ousted in an election upset on May 9.
The question for Malaysia now is how Anwar will get along with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, his ally-turned-foe-turned-ally, and what role he will play in the new government.
Anwar, 70, said he would like to take time off with his family and did not intend to join the cabinet any time soon.
He said he would support the government led by Mahathir and Deputy Prime Minister Wan Ismail, who is Anwar’s wife.
“I’ve told Tun Mahathir, I don’t need to serve in the cabinet for now,” Anwar said, using an honorific for the prime minister
Anwar has been in the hospital for some months, for surgery on a shoulder.
But he looked in fine fettle as he walked free for the first time in three years, dressed in a black suit and tie, his hair neatly swept back.
Supporters chanted “Reformasi” (Reform), the movement he launched two decades ago to challenge diverse Malaysia’s race- and patronage-based politics.
Anwar was sentenced in 2015 to a five-year term for sodomy, a charge he says was trumped up by the government of ousted Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Mahathir, with whom Anwar joined forces to win last Wednesday’s election, greeted him at the palace where they both met the king.
Anwar was Mahathir’s deputy in the 1990s but fell out with his mentor during the Asian financial crisis.
He was sacked from the ruling party and founded the Reformasi movement, challenging Mahathir’s government
Within weeks, he was arrested and jailed on charges of sodomy and corruption.
Images at the time of a goateed, bespectacled Anwar in court with a black eye and bruises brought condemnation of Mahathir from around the world.
Anwar’s trial became a spectacle, with prosecutors at one stage bringing out what they said was a semen-stained mattress allegedly used when he had sex with two male aides.
After being freed in 2004, Anwar was jailed a second time. Both times, he and his supporters have said the charges were politically motivated.
Anwar later told a news conference at his home he had forgiven the veteran leader, who was a pugnacious, uncompromising prime minister for 22 years from 1981.