Anwar Ibrahim, former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, savored his first full day of freedom in six years Friday after his dramatic release from prison, and he tested the waters for a comeback in Malaysian politics.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad fired Anwar in September 1998 because Anwar allegedly had engaged in homosexual acts. At the time Malaysia was mired in the Asian economic crisis, and the two men held different views over how to resolve it. Anwar's sacking sparked the southeast Asian country's biggest street demonstrations in decades. Several weeks after his removal from office Anwar was placed on trial for alleged abuse of power and sexual misconduct. He was convicted of corruption in April 1999 for allegedly using his position as Malaysia's second in command to cover up his same-sex trysts.
In an interview with the Associated Press at his home in an affluent Kuala Lumpur suburb, Anwar smiled, laughed, and looked far more relaxed than during a tense appearance Thursday, when Malaysia's highest court overturned his sodomy conviction. "It's an indescribable feeling to be among family and friends," said Anwar, who enjoyed a breakfast with his children and saw them off to school.
Anwar also obtained a passport to travel to Germany to have surgery for a back injury due partly to a police beating he suffered after his arrest in 1998. He had sought the surgery for years, but authorities previously refused to let him leave the country.
Sitting in a wheelchair and wearing a neck brace, Anwar said he would never have been let out of prison if his former boss were still in power. Asked by reporters whether he would run in the next general election, which must be held by March 2009, Anwar said, "Let me get my back repaired first."
Anwar remains barred from elected office for five years for a corruption conviction, which still stands although he has served the sentence. Anwar could return to politics immediately if the corruption conviction is overturned. Another federal court panel is scheduled to start hearings Monday on whether the court's previous ruling to uphold the conviction can be appealed and possibly thrown out. A decision could be months away. Anwar said he wants the court to give him a fair hearing and not come up with a compromise that serves political ends and keeps him from contesting elections. "I should not have been prosecuted or convicted in the first place," Anwar said.