PETALING JAYA - Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim spoke at a political rally for the first time in three years on Wednesday night (May 16), some 12 hours after he walked out of a Kuala Lumpur hospital a free man.
Several thousand supporters filled the Padang Timur field in the Petaling Jaya suburb of Selangor which took on a street party atmosphere lined with food trucks, as well as stalls selling his coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) T-shirts and other merchandise, despite the soggy ground due to earlier rain.
The former deputy premier joked with the crowds, saying that he had taken a three-year unpaid holiday, referring to his time in jail.
He said that the Malaysian King had told him that he had his records expunged, and that his record was now clean, following a full royal pardon he received on Wednesday, which meant that he can now take part in politics.
Datuk Seri Anwar was jailed in February 2015 for a second sodomy conviction.
Mr Anwar said the King had met his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is now Malaysia's deputy prime minister, in the early hours of May 10 following the general election, and asked her if she had wanted to be prime minister.
Her Parti Keadilan Rakyat, which Mr Anwar leads, had won the most number of seats. But she replied that the PH leaders had agreed for Tun Mahathir Mohamad to take on the position.
"I give my support to Tun Dr Mahathir. We must give strong support to him and the Cabinet. I would not support him if I was not confident that he would bring change to the country," Mr Anwar told the crowd.
He added that Dr Wan Azizah had then asked for her husband to be pardoned and the King had said he would do it straightaway.
Mr Anwar said that he wanted to rest following his release, and travel to a few places in Malaysia, including Permatang Pauh, his daughter Nurul Izzah's parliamentary constituency in his home state of Penang.
He indicated he would also travel to Turkey, as its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had given him a telephone call on Wednesday and invited him to visit.
"Mahathir was kind to me and saw that I had no job. He asked me if I wanted to be in Cabinet, but I said there was no need," he said drawing laughter from the crowd.
Turning emotional towards the end, he noted that this was his first speech in three years, since his imprisonment over charges he maintains are trumped up, that he sodomised his 23-year-old male aide.
"I have missed all of you dearly. You cannot imagine what it is like to be alone in prison. I have the strength but it is really difficult and tough. To me, all of you who are here, are so sweet and so loving," he said as he ended his speech.