Jailed Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim to receive royal pardon
Malaysia's new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has announced that politician Anwar Ibrahim, who was jailed after falling out with the government, will receive a full royal pardon from the country's king.
The move is expected to pave the way for Anwar, who faces charges of corruption and sodomy, to eventually take over as Malaysia's leader.
Although Anwar Ibrahim's release date has not yet been confirmed, Mahathir told a news conference in Petaling Jaya that the king has indicated that he is willing to pardon him "immediately”. He added: "We will begin the ... proper process of obtaining a pardon. This means a full pardon. He should be released immediately when he is pardoned."
Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah, also reinforced the idea that the king was eager to grant the pardon, commenting that: "if the director of prisons is satisfied... then [Anwar] may be released in two to three days".
Mahathir, who at 92 years old is the world's oldest elected leader, has just risen to power in an election fought, at least in part, on a pledge to free Anwar. Despite being in prison, Anwar has remained popular with opposition supporters, and it was part of Mahathir's terms of leadership that he would work to secure his release.
Mahathir and Anwar have a complicated history, originally serving as prime minister and deputy respectively in the 1990s. However, the two fell out and Anwar was fired. In 1999 - during Mahathir's first tenure as Prime Minister - he was imprisoned on charges of abusing his power. In 2000, he was sentenced to a further nine years in prison after being found guilty of sodomy with his wife's driver.
These charges were partially overturned in 2004, leading to his release, but further sodomy charges followed in 2008. Although he was cleared of these in 2012, the Court of Appeal overturned this decision and he was returned to jail in 2015. His original release date had been set for June 8.
While sodomy is illegal in Malaysia, it is rare for people to be convicted for it and so his treatment has generally been considered to be a political manoeuvre. In 2008 and 2013, he led the opposition party to considerable gains, threatening the ruling party's hold on power.
Although it is expected that Mahathir will step aside after Anwar's release, Anwar will still need to win a by-election in order to become a member of parliament before he is allowed to ascend to office.