Malaysia’s newly installed prime minister says he is ready to make good on a campaign promise to pardon opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Mahathir Mohamad said Friday, “We will begin the ... proper process of obtaining a pardon for Datuk Sri Anwar,” using a Malay honorific.
Mahathir said the king “has indicated he is willing to pardon” Anwar.
The prime minister said Anwar “should be released immediately when he is pardoned.”
The opposition leader is in prison on corruption and sodomy charges that were widely denounced as politically motivated.
Anwar had served as deputy prime minister and finance minister in Mahathir’s government and was seen as Mahathir’s heir-apparent until he was fired in 1999.
Mahathir, Malaysia’s former leader, was sworn in Thursday as the country’s seventh prime minister after his stunning election victory the day before, a feat that makes him the world’s oldest elected leader.
The 92-year-old former prime minister known for his authoritarian rule and his coalition of opposition parties, the Alliance of Hope, toppled Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional coalition, which includes UMNO, the ethnic Malay party that had ruled Malaysia since its birth as an independent country in 1957.
The ceremony in Kuala Lumpur ended a day of doubt as rumors circulated the Barisan Nasional coalition would try to maintain its grip on power.
Mahathir, wearing a traditional black tunic and sarong and an Islamic cap, was officially sworn in by King Sultan Muhammad in a ceremony that was steeped in centuries-old Muslim Malay tradition.
"I, Mahathir Mohamad, after being elected as prime minister, swear to carry out my task with all my ability, and that I will be loyal to Malaysia and preserve and defend the constitution," he said in an elaborately decorated room surrounded by political allies and senior government officials.
Hundreds of Malaysians lined the road leading to the palace before the ceremony, waving party flags and cheering.
Najib conceded defeat earlier Thursday, saying he and his colleagues "accept the verdict of the people."
U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert congratulated the Malaysian people for voting, saying they "engaged the electoral process in large numbers peacefully and with great enthusiasm."
Experts had expected the Barisan Nasional coalition to lose the popular vote but maintain control of parliament after it redrew the country's electoral map.