Dr Mahathir to remain in power one to two years

Leroy Wright
May 16, 2018

Jailed Malaysian reformist Anwar Ibrahim was granted a full pardon on Wednesday and walked free from a hospital in Kuala Lumpur, capping dramatic changes in the Southeast Asian country since the government was ousted in an election upset last week.

Malaysia's new prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has said he will lead the country for "one or two years" and expects his government to lay charges against his predecessor Najib Razak.

But Anwar's wife and deputy prime minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail told reporters later that Anwar was in no hurry to become prime minister.

The royal pardon is crucial for the PKR leader who plans to return to politics after his release. He was set to meet the king after leaving the hospital, and planned to speak to media in the afternoon.

Mahathir, 92 was sworn in as the leader on Thursday, making him the world's oldest democratically elected leader.

Anwar was initially scheduled to be released on June 10, 2018, after his five-year sentence that started on Feb 10, 2015 was reduced for good behaviour.

He may have been in prison for the past three years, but for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, it is nearly as if he never left active politics. He and his supporters have said the charges are politically motivated by Najib to end his career.

Anwar was heir-apparent to the premiership until Mahathir sacked him in 1998 and he was subsequently jailed.

As part of their arrangement, Mahathir has pledged to step down in a year or two and to help create a path for Anwar to become premier. Yet rather than give up, Anwar worked from his prison cell to forge a new opposition alliance by ending the two-decade feud with Mahathir - a gamble that paid off when the alliance won the 9 May polls.

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Mahathir said that whether Najib would serve time in prison would depend on the results of an investigation.

The charismatic Anwar was a rising political star in the 1990s under Mahathir, heading various ministries and earning praise overseas as a reformer.

Jailed for six years, Anwar says he was kept in solitary confinement, singing 1960s pop tunes to stay sane and reading anything he could get, including the Quran, the Bible and Shakespeare.

The pardon allows Anwar to re-enter active politics immediately, but it was not clear what his role in government would be.

It stung UMNO by winning 52 percent of the popular vote in 2013 but failed to take parliament due to government gerrymandering. "Authoritarian leaders always believe the best way to deal with dissidents is to jail them, but throughout history, it has always backfired".

The opposition alliance united by Anwar brought together odd bedfellows: an ethnic Chinese pro-democracy party, the conservative Islamic PAS, and Anwar's own racially diverse party.

Mahathir is also racing ahead with an investigation into graft at 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state fund founded by the ousted Najib that is sunk in a multi-billion-dollar graft scandal.

In the WSJ report published online Tuesday, Dr Mahathir reportedly said he would not offer Najib freedom in an effort to reclaim the missing funds.

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