Former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim speaks to the media outside his home in Kuala Lumpur.  (Photographer: Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg News)

Malaysia King to Pardon Anwar Immediately, Mahathir Says

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(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that Malaysia’s king has indicated he’s willing to immediately pardon jailed politician Anwar Ibrahim, his likely successor.

Anwar, 70, is the de facto leader of the Pakatan Harapan alliance that won Malaysia’s election earlier this week, ending the Barisan Nasional’s six-decade rule. While Mahathir had previously agreed to serve as interim prime minister until Anwar was released from jail, the 92-year-old leader has avoided saying directly when he would hand over power.

Mahathir announced the pardon Friday while outlining his policy priorities, which include bolstering the economy and cracking down on corruption in light of a scandal at state investment fund 1MDB. On Saturday, he plans to name the heads of 10 ministries, including finance, defense and economy.

The new prime minister has sought to reassure investors who had boosted Malaysia’s stock market near to a record high, partly in anticipation of a win by ousted leader Najib Razak. An exchange-traded fund in the U.S. that tracks Malaysian equities is down more than 4 percent since the vote, suggesting investors may sell the nation’s stocks and currency when domestic financial markets reopen Monday.

Comeback Kid: Mahathir, 92, Has Big Plans to Fix Up Malaysia

Mahathir’s coalition harnessed public anger over a goods-and-services tax and the money laundering scandal involving hundreds of millions of dollars siphoned from 1MDB. After his win, Mahathir said he would scrap GST, recover most funds from 1MDB and ensure that Najib would “face the consequences” if he did anything wrong.

Mahathir also said he would review Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali, saying he “undermined his own credibility.” Mohamed Apandi said Friday that it’s important that any action taken must be done in accordance with the constitution.

“My conscience is clear,” he said. “Anyway I will cross the bridge when I come to it.”

Anwar’s Path

Anwar should be released immediately after the pardon, Mahathir said Friday, and be free to fully participate in politics. A day earlier, Mahathir declined to give a timeframe for handing over power to his former deputy.

“Before he can join the cabinet he will have to be a member of parliament first,” Mahathir told reporters Friday. “So this process may take a long time. Whether he will immediately join the cabinet or not will be decided when the time comes.”

Anwar had served as Mahathir’s deputy in the late 1990s during the Asian financial crisis. After Mahathir fired Anwar in 1998, Anwar spent the next six years in prison on convictions for abuse of power and sodomy. He again entered prison in 2015 after another sodomy conviction.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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