Former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim has been released from prison and appears on track to become prime minister of the country.
In his first address to the media after meeting the nation’s king and returning home on May 16, Anwar said he would not seek an immediate return to politics and would instead spend time with his family.
He also calmed early fears of rifts in a new post-election government alliance by supporting Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s prerogative to form the cabinet.
The early release of Malaysia’s most famous political prisoner is expected to secure a new phase of political and social reform in a country that was becoming increasingly repressive under now ousted leader Najib Razak. On May 9, a coalition that ruled for six decades, dominated by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), was voted out of office.
Anwar assured supporters that reform in Malaysia will not be derailed by anyone.
“People are concerned that the reform agenda might not go through but I have seen at least in the last week there is a strong commitment,” Anwar said during a press conference at his home in Kuala Lumpur.
“It is not about personalities … they don’t decide (the new government’s agenda), we will make sure this reform agenda is not derailed.”
Days before the election, church leaders said they hoped that Malaysians would vote for “leaders who truly care for the people.”
The statement follows criticism of a minister in the previous government who remarked that churches spread lies to put the government in a bad light. Church leaders were outraged by his comments.
There have been no statements from Catholic bishops since the poll. Observers noted they would be reticent to say anything near Ramadan on their relief about the change in government especially before the Muslim fasting month Ramadan commences May 17.
It has been noted that in the past six decades, several high-profile Malaysian church leaders have publicly called for a change of government.
Mahathir promises to step aside
Anwar walked out from a hospital where was receiving treatment under guard to applause from a large crowd greeted the man who fired-up the drive to reform the country two decades ago when he was sacked as deputy prime minister. Supporters trailed him to Istana Negara, the royal palace where he met Mahathir who last week sought a pardon for him. The pardon was granted, clearing the way for his release.
Mahathir, now 92, has promised to step aside for him to become prime minister within two years.
Anwar, a hugely charismatic public figure, was jailed for a second time three years ago on what he said were trumped-up sodomy charges that appeared to have derailed his political career.
He was seen as leaning towards hard-line Islam in his youth as a co-founder of the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia in the early 1970s. In 1974, he was arrested and imprisoned for almost two years — during student protests against rural poverty — under the now repealed Internal Security Act that allowed detention without trial.
After his release he served as a representative for Asia Pacific of World Assembly of Muslim Youth from 1975 till 1982. He is a co-founder of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and in the mid-1980s served as a chancellor of the International Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur. In 1982 he shocked his supporters by joining UMNO, led by Mahathir, who had become prime minister in 1981.
He moved up the political ranks quickly, becoming a minister in 1983 and rising to the office of deputy prime minister in 1993, a post he held until 1998 when he was sacked by Mahathir during the Asian financial crisis when they disagreed over policy.
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