Reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim is celebrating a “new dawn” for Malaysia after he was given a royal pardon and freed from custody.
The move transformed a political prisoner into a prime minister-in-waiting after his alliance’s stunning election victory last week.
Mr Anwar, 70, was convicted of sodomy in 2015 in a case he said was aimed at crushing his alliance, which was making gains against Malaysia’s long-ruling coalition government.
His sentence was set to end on June 8 but the unexpected election win, which ended the National Front’s 60-year rule, led to his swift release.
Kepulangan DSAI ke kediaman beliau pic.twitter.com/9QY0OpmWNc— Anwar Ibrahim (@anwaribrahim) May 16, 2018
“Now there is a new dawn for Malaysia,” he told a news conference at his house.
Mr Anwar said he was grateful to Malaysians “regardless of race and religion, who stood by the principles of democracy and freedom”.
The election result was a demand for change and it is the new government’s responsibility to ensure that mandate is honoured, he said.
Earlier, he was thronged by scores of supporters and reporters after he walked free from a hospital, where he was recovering from shoulder surgery, and whisked away to an audience with Malaysia’s king.
The royal palace said in a statement that the monarch had given Mr Anwar a full pardon after advice from the Pardons Board.
Analysts say his release could cause tensions in the new government led by Mahathir Mohamad, who after leading the four-party alliance in the election campaign has become the world’s oldest leader at 92.
Mr Mahathir is the chairman of the alliance and Mr Anwar is its de facto leader.
Mr Anwar sought to allay those concerns, saying he was not in a hurry to take over from Mr Mahathir. Mr Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, is the deputy premier.
Mr Anwar, who needs to contest a by-election to become a member of parliament, said he does not want any cabinet posts yet as he plans to spend time with his family and travel abroad for speaking engagements.
He reiterated his full support for Mr Mahathir’s leadership and said their political feud has long been buried.
“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,” Mr Anwar said.
“He has struggled and worked indefatigably hard. He has now supported the reform agenda. He facilitated my release. Why should I harbour any malice towards him?”
His party has disputed Mr Mahathir’s appointment of three senior cabinet posts, but Mr Anwar said it was only a difference over the consultation process, adding it was Mr Mahathir’s prerogative as premier to form the cabinet.
Mr Mahathir, premier for 22 years until 2003, on Tuesday said he will run the country for “one to two years” to fix Malaysia’s financial problems.
It was Mr Anwar’s second spell in prison. Once a high flyer in the ruling party, he was first convicted of homosexual sodomy and corruption after a power struggle with Mr Mahathir in 1998.
He and his supporters have long denied the sodomy allegations, saying they were concocted to destroy his political career. Mr Anwar worked from his prison cell to forge a new opposition alliance by ending the two-decade feud with Mr Mahathir.
Amnesty International said his release was a “landmark moment for human rights” in Malaysia and called for repressive laws muzzling freedom of expression and assembly to be repealed.