KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s king has promised to pardon Anwar Ibrahim and grant him an immediate release from his prison sentence.
It follows the shock turn of events this week in which the Mahathir-led Alliance of Hope (PH) coalition ended the six-decade Barisan Nasional (BN) rule in Malaysia politics.
The surprise win by PH has led to Mahathir, the 92-year-old statesman, promising the release of his former rival Anwar Ibrahim and his entry into politics.
At a press conference after PH was the surprise victor in the 14th general elections, Mahathir said that the Malaysian monarch “has indicated he is willing to pardon Anwar immediately.”
Mahathir said that the king would give a full pardon and grant an immediate release from prison. “He (Anwar) will be free to participate fully in politics,” he said.
At the same conference, Wan Azizah, Anwar’s wife, said that once pardoned, “If the director of prisons is satisfied … then (Anwar Ibrahim) may be released in two to three days.”
The political prisoner has spent almost two decades behind bars under the BN regime. He was sacked in 1998 by Mahathir and subsequently accused of sodomy and corruption. Many human rights groups and analysts viewed this as a political chess-play to prevent Anwar from taking power.
Nizam, 29, a former member of Malaysia’s youth parliament, told Arab News: “Anwar’s pardon and other commissions are litmus tests of sort. How Mahathir conducts these acts will be scrutinized.”
He added that the request for Anwar’s pardon and the procedure must follow the rule of law.
Since 1998, the prime-minister-in-waiting has been fighting tirelessly through the Reformation movement, including the formation of the People’s Justice Party (Keadilan). Popular among younger voters, Anwar represents the new face of Malaysia.
Han Yang, 33, a masters student at Notthingham University, said: “Mahathir has helped to reunite Pakatan under his strong leadership.” He added that the 92-year-old prime minister had played a role in calming down PH and stating focused on forming the new government.
“I think Mahathir is a good replacement for Anwar for now until his release,” Han Yang said.
On Thursday the nation saw Mahathir sworn in as the seventh prime minister of Malaysia after waiting for more than four hours at the royal palace. Mahathir promised that the new government would abide by “the rule of law and the constitution.”
“Mahathir has no choice but to leave power (to Anwar) but we don’t know the time frame for that,” Dr. Sophie Lemiere, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, told Arab News.
She said that in the meantime Mahathir plays a crucial role in the new administration in offering a stable transition.
“He is a superhuman, he wants to enjoy a bit longer the miracle,” Dr. Lemiere said.
Meanwhile, the mood on the streets and on social media was jubilant after six decades of authoritarian rule by one party.
Roslan Buja, 34, a lecturer at a local university, said: “I am happy that PH won and Dr. Mahathir is the prime minister. We want a country that is clear from corruption and the misuse of power. I prefer our country to have checks and balances, like the US, UK and Japan.”
From East Malaysia, Buja, is among the many young Sarawakians reclaiming their political identity in 21st- century Malaysia.
“As a Sarawakian, my hope is to see Borneo’s narrative included in the national discourse, and I hope whoever leads this federation remembers that,” Buja said.
In the coming days, the PH-led government will pave the way with the announcement of a new lineup of the Cabinet and put an end to the culture of “cash is king” in the country.
“The entire political culture (of the institutions) needs to be change, that would take a bit of time,” Dr. Lemiere said.
This includes the civil service. She said that civil servants “have to learn that in a real democracy they are serving the people; they are no longer serving the sole interest of the prime minister.”
The transition period will witness an overhaul of the country’s institutions and previous approaches to corruption.
One major focus will be scrutiny of the 1MDB investment fund corruption scandal by the previous government. Part of the newly appointed prime minister’s plan is to appoint a finance ministry adviser who will oversee efforts to recover the country’s billion-dollar state fund.
“The BN account should be frozen and Najib should be barred from leaving Malaysia,” said Roslan Buja, who was eager to see a new dawn in Malaysian politics.