Freed by ally turned foe turned ally

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim greets his supporters during a rally dressed in mourning black gathered to denounce elections which they claim were stolen through fraud by the coalition that has ruled for 56 years. in Penang May 11 2013. Pix Firdaus Latif

Anwar Ibrahim (pictured), the one-time jailed rival of Malaysia’s new prime minister, has been released from jail and could move directly into government. 

He was granted a royal pardon by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to cap the dramatic developments since the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition lost last week’s general election.

Anwar’s party, PKR, holds 48 of the 113 seats won by the Pakatan Harapan coalition last Wednesday, and he is widely tipped to succeed Mahathir once he steps down as prime minister.  

Mahathir, 92, who led the Pakatan Harapan bloc of four diverse parties to victory, greeted Anwar, 70, at the state palace in Kuala Lumpur alongside Sultan Muhammad V, Yang di-Pertuan. Anwar served three years of a five-year prison sentence for sodomy: charges that are widely dismissed as politically motivated. 

The question now is how will Anwar work with Mahathir and what role he will play in the new administration.

Supporters chanted “reformasi” as he left Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital where he had been receiving treatment for a shoulder injury. 

Reformasi or “reform” was the political movement he launched 20 years ago, having been sacked from Mahathir’s BN government in 1998 after they fell out over the Asian financial crisis.

He was then jailed on charges of corruption and sodomy. One day in court he had a black eye as prosecutors brought out an allegedly semen-stained mattress from Anwar’s sex with two male aides.

Anwar was jailed again in 2015 for sodomy but he restored his relationship with Mahathir to oppose then prime minister Najib Razak.

Addressing why he had reunited with his former mentor who had jailed him on charges he claimed were “politically motivated”, Anwar said: “I have forgiven him. He has proven his mettle. He made his sacrifices and was maligned in the media. I tell you, it is like deja vu.

“He has struggled and worked indefatigably hard. He has now supported the reform agenda. He facilitated my release. Why should I harbour any malice toward him?”

His daughter Nurul Izzah said Mahathir had a “rare second chance to put things right”.

“Many have asked me how it is that our reform movement has now joined forces with the very same former dictator, Mahathir Mohamad, who sacked my father in 1998 and saw him arrested, brutalised and incarcerated,” she wrote in the Guardian.

“My answer is simply that we must all firmly resolve to never let our nation sink to the depths it did again.”

Former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. Picture credit: Wikimedia