Anwar expected to be released in June, says wife

Anwar Ibrahim
Anwar Ibrahim

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is expected to be released from prison on June 11, an event that is likely to have implications for the country's political temperature.

"God willing, he will be released on June 11," his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said in a speech at a Pakatan Harapan (PH) function, as quoted by The Star Online.

Dr Wan Azizah is president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), a federal opposition party that heads the PH alliance ruling Selangor. She was also quoted by The Malaysian Insight news portal as saying: "If the law permits, he will be released on June 11."

This is the first time anyone has given an actual date for Anwar's release after serving a five-year sentence for sodomy. Anwar started serving the sentence in February 2015, meaning he would be released in 2020, should he have to serve the full term.

But prisoners in Malaysia often get a one-third reduction of sentences for good behaviour. By June this year, Anwar would have been in jail for 40 months - or two-thirds of his five-year sentence.

The announcement came amid preparations for the general election by both the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, and the four-party PH opposition alliance helmed by ex-premier Tun Mahathir Mohamad, 92.

Due to his conviction, Anwar cannot stand for election over the next five years unless he is pardoned by the Malaysian King. But once freed from jail, the 70-year-old charismatic opposition chief could freely travel to work the ground, and inject energy into the opposition.

Datuk Seri Najib is expected to call for the polls within months.

Some pundits see a window for the elections after the Chinese New Year holidays on Feb 16 and 17, and before the Muslim fasting month on May 16. Polls could be held as late as August this year.

"Dr Mahathir is sharp on policies and knows the workings of the government; Anwar will rally the urban crowd," said ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute fellow Norshahril Saat. "If Anwar is out, BN's strategy will change and they could bring back the old stories" about the Mahathir-Anwar breakup in 1998, she added.

That year, then prime minister Dr Mahathir sacked Anwar, then his deputy. The two politicians have come together again after Dr Mahathir left Umno in early 2016. Dr Mahathir is officially the chairman of PH and Anwar its de facto leader.

Due to his conviction, Anwar cannot stand for election over the next five years unless he is pardoned by the Malaysian King.

But once freed from jail, the 70-year-old charismatic opposition chief could freely travel to work the ground, and inject energy into the opposition.

His ability to get voters excited about his "reform agenda" and in uniting the opposition shook Malaysian politics in the 2008 and 2013 polls. The opposition in 2008 captured five of Malaysia's 13 state assemblies. And in 2013, the united opposition for the first time won the popular vote.

Based on this history, PM Najib might consider calling the elections before June, some pundits say.

Mr Najib, 64, is currently unassailable in his party Umno and in the 13-party BN coalition, after locally containing the scandal surrounding state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

On the other hand, the opposition is weaker following Anwar's jailing and the death of spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), both in February 2015. PAS is now leaning towards BN-led Umno.

The four-party PH, when not busy trading barbs with PAS, is split on whether to nominate Dr Mahathir as its candidate for prime minister, should it win the upcoming elections.

PH is holding its national convention today, when it is expected to name its nominee prime minister.

Leaders of the opposition pact yesterday held a five-hour meeting to decide on its nominee, but declined to tell reporters on what was decided.

"Tomorrow (Sunday), you will hear all the announcements that will clear all of your questions," Dr Mahathir told reporters, as quoted by Malaysiakini.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 07, 2018, with the headline 'Anwar expected to be released in June, says wife'. Print Edition | Subscribe