Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has started the process of obtaining an immediate pardon for jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Mr Mahathir was sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh premier late on Thursday, after leading his four-party opposition alliance to a stunning election victory.
He ousted scandal-plagued Prime Minister Najib Razak and ended his coalition’s 60-year unbroken grip on power.
It was a remarkable comeback for Mr Mahathir, who was premier for 22 years until his retirement in 2003 and is now the world’s oldest leader at 92.
He said the king has indicated he is willing to give an immediate pardon that would free Anwar, who was jailed in 2015 on sodomy charges he said were fabricated by the then-government to crush the opposition.
Mr Mahathir said: “We will go through the proper process of obtaining a pardon for Anwar … it is going to be a full pardon, which of course, means he is not only pardoned but to be released immediately.”
He did not say how long the process will take and whether Anwar could be freed before his sentence ends on June 8.
It was a second spell in prison for Anwar, a former deputy prime minister in the defeated ruling party who was also jailed under Mr Mahathir in 1998 after a power struggle.
Anwar and Mr Mahathir joined forces in an unlikely alliance that helped the opposition nail the electoral victory.
Mr Mahathir’s deputy in the new government is Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Anwar’s wife and the leader of his People’s Justice Party.
She is the first female deputy premier in Malaysia but the current set-up is seen as transitional as Mr Mahathir has agreed to hand over the baton to Anwar once he is freed.
Mr Mahathir has been coy about how long he will stay in his new job.
Anwar will need to contest and win a by-election after he is freed to become a member of parliament before he takes on the top job.
Mr Mahathir said his four-party alliance will hold a meeting on Saturday and name just 10 ministers.
He said he does not want a “huge” cabinet, in a veiled reference to past cabinets with more than 30 ministers.
He also issued a strong warning against corruption, with suspect officials to be replaced in an overhaul of government departments.
He indicated this could include Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali, who was appointed after Mr Najib sacked his predecessor in 2015 to escape possible prosecution over a corruption scandal involving the 1MDB state fund.
Anger over the scandal prompted Mr Mahathir to emerge from retirement and sparked the anger that helped to oust Mr Najib’s coalition.
The fund was set up by Mr Najib in 2009 to promote economic development but it accumulated billions in debts.
US investigators say Mr Najib’s associates stole and looted at least 4.5 billion US dollars (£3.3 billion) from the fund.
They say some 700 million (£517 million) landed in Mr Najib’s bank account. He denied any wrongdoing.