KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysia’s king has agreed to pardon jailed opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim, the newly installed prime minister said Friday, in the latest dramatic development after the opposition toppled the long-ruling regime.
Anwar’s expected release paves the way for him to be handed power by Mahathir Mohamad, 92, who was sworn in as the world’s oldest leader Thursday following his alliance’s stunning election victory.
Mahathir, who has said he plans to give the premiership to Anwar — his former nemesis — came out of retirement after he was angered at a massive corruption scandal that ensnared ex-prime minister Najib Razak.
The former strongman teamed up with parties that had fought him vehemently during his two decades in power in a bid to oust the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which had led Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957.
Anwar, from the People’s Justice Party, was a key leader of the opposition alliance.
One of Malaysia’s most charismatic politicians, he was heir-apparent to the premiership until Mahathir sacked him in 1998 and he was subsequently jailed for sodomy and abuse of power.
But in a remarkable turnaround, the pair reconciled and joined forces as they sought to eject Najib, who was accused of stealing billions of dollars from a state investment fund that he set up and oversaw.
Anwar was jailed again in 2015 during Najib’s rule, in a case widely condemned as politically motivated.
He was due out in June but Mahathir told a press conference that King Sultan Muhammad V, during a meeting Thursday with opposition leaders, had indicated he was willing to grant him a royal pardon immediately.
The royal pardon would mean he can participate in politics again straight away. Without it, he would be banned from political life for five years.
“We will begin the... proper process of obtaining a pardon,” Mahathir told reporters.
“He should be released immediately when he is pardoned.”
Mahathir’s reconciliation with Anwar has been one of the most remarkable aspects of an electrifying election race.
Mahathir also announced that 10 cabinet positions would be filled on Saturday.
The opposition faced an uphill battle at the election due to what critics said were no-holds-barred attempts by Najib to hang on to power.
His government was accused of gerrymandering while activists said he hurled cash and gifts at voters and there was a litany of problems with the electoral roll, including dead people appearing on the list.
But voters turned out in droves, determined to push out the scandal-plagued government, with the opposition boosted by the presence of standard-bearer Mahathir, who has a huge following among the country’s Muslim Malay majority.