The leader of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) – a component party of the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition – received a full pardon from the King on Wednesday (May 16) morning, leaving him free to make a return to politics.
“The Pardons Board had presented recommendations to the Agong [King] who agreed to give Anwar a full pardon,” Anwar’s lawyer S. Sivarasa is quoted as saying in The Star.
“He is not only physically free but free to participate in the nation’s politics, as though past convictions have been expunged,” he said.
Anwar’s release came a week after Pakatan Harapan ended the decades-long rule of Barisan Nasional in Malaysia’s bitterly fought 14th general election – with the man who once imprisoned him at the helm.
In a surprise move earlier this year, the opposition named Mahathir their candidate for prime minister on the condition that Anwar take over should he receive a royal pardon.
Anwar will not take the reins immediately.
“In the initial stages, maybe lasting one or two years, I will have to be the Prime Minister and I will have to run the country,” The Star quoted Mahathir as saying on Tuesday at a Wall Street Journal event in Tokyo.
He also said that he would continue to play a role “in the background.”
In order to become prime minister, Anwar will also have to become a member of Parliament first but he is in no rush to return to politics.
“I’ll be taking time off to give a series of talks in Harvard, Georgetown and a few Muslim countries,” Anwar is quoted in The Star as saying during his first press conference after his release.
Anwar’s release marks the latest turn in a particularly turbulent political career. As an Islamist student leader in the 1970s, he showed no fear of rocking the boat, participating in mass demonstrations that landed him in prison.
In 1982, Anwar joined UMNO, the dominant party within the Barisan Nasional coalition, and rose swiftly up the ranks.
He headed multiple ministries before landing the coveted role of finance minister in 1991. By 1993, he had become deputy prime minister to Mahathir and was widely viewed as his heir-apparent.
Just five years later, disagreements over corruption and economic policy during the Asian financial crisis soured the relationship between the pair and Anwar, once a rising star, was fired abruptly in 1998.
He initiated the Reformasi protest movement, but was soon arrested under the Internal Security Act and later faced charges of corruption and sodomy.
Anwar was accused of sodomizing Azizan Abu Bakar, the driver of his wife and current Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
He was slapped with a six-year jail term for corruption in 1999 and received an additional nine years after being found guilty of sodomy the following year. Anwar has maintained that the charges were politically motivated.
In 2004, the sodomy conviction was overturned and Anwar eventually re-entered the political arena, this time on the side of the opposition.
Under his leadership, the opposition obtained an impressive result against BN in the 2008 election, denying the then-ruling coalition a supermajority for the first time since 1969.
However, the triumph was short-lived and Anwar soon found himself facing fresh accusations of sodomy – this time allegedly with his political aide.
In 2012, Anwar was acquitted due to a lack of evidence, and went on to lead the opposition in 2013 general election where it won the popular vote for the first time – though it failed to topple the ruling coalition.
Two years later, during the watch of Prime Minister Najib Razak, the acquittal was overturned. The blow fell as Anwar was preparing for a 2014 by-election he seemed likely to win and his wife eventually contested the seat in his place. He began to serve his jail term in 2015 after the federal court upheld the ruling.