KUALA LUMPUR: Jailed Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leader Anwar Ibrahim on Wednesday (May 16) left the Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital a free man after receiving a royal pardon from the Malaysian king.
The Pardons Board met at 11am to discuss Anwar's release and application for a pardon.
Smiling and looking spry in a tailored black suit, Anwar emerged from the Kuala Lumpur hospital where he had undergone surgery for a shoulder problem, giving a thumbs-up to a crowd of journalists before leaving in a car without comment.
Anwar and his wife, the nominated deputy prime minister, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, were earlier on Wednesday morning invited for an audience with the king, Sultan Muhammad V, at 12.30pm at the royal palace.
According to Anwar's lawyer, the king granted the PKR leader a full pardon, expunging all past convictions.
"The pardons board has already met and the king has granted a full pardon, which means all past convictions have been expunged," said Sivarasa Rasiah.
The royal palace released a statement in Malay shortly before noon, saying that Anwar had been granted a full pardon and freed with immediate effect.
The 70-year-old began serving a five-year sentence in February 2015 after the Malaysian high court upheld his conviction and sentence on a charge of having sodomised a former personal aide.
Anwar was jailed in Sungai Buloh Prison, and was scheduled to be freed on Jun 8. He has spent the last few months in hospital recovering from his operation.
"Seeing him walk free makes me emotional, but the fight is not over," said Ridzuan Ismail, an Anwar supporter at the hospital. "Now we need to see him become prime minister.”
Jack Seng, another supporter wearing a shirt with a logo of Anwar behind bars, said he thought newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar would resolve any tensions between them.
"I think we need to let Mahathir do his work to save Malaysia and to get back its system of government."
A RETURN TO THE POLITICAL ARENA
The royal pardon now makes him eligible to actively participate in politics, Sivarasa confirmed to the assembled media outside the hospital.
His daughter Nurul Izzah told Channel NewsAsia on the eve of his release that the pardon "completely validate(s) his innocence".
Anwar was greeted by Dr Mahathir at the royal palace ahead of his audience with the king.
Dr Mahathir has said he will hand over the reins to Anwar once the latter is elected as a Member of Parliament in a by-election or elected as a senator.
On Tuesday, Dr Mahathir told a Wall Street Journal conference that he will be prime minister for "one or two years".
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Dr Wan Azizah also said the appointment of her husband as Malaysia's new prime minister will not be made in haste.
The reversal of Anwar's conviction and his role as PM-in-waiting caps a roller-coaster political career for the former deputy prime minister. In 1998, he was sacked by then-Prime Minister Dr Mahathir.
A year later, Anwar was sentenced to six years in prison - and then another nine years for corruption and sodomy.
In 2004, he was freed after the sodomy conviction was overturned. He became the de facto leader of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance and in the 2008 general election, led it to victory in the states of Penang, Kedah, Selangor, Kelantan and Perak.
In 2015, he was sent back to jail on the sodomy charge - a move he said was a bid by then-Prime Minister Najib Razak to end his political career.
He eventually teamed up with his former foe, Dr Mahathir, and watched his former boss sworn in as the country's seventh prime minister from his hospital bed.