KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s new prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, said on Friday that the country’s king had agreed to pardon the imprisoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, potentially clearing the way for fulfilling one of the central pledges of Mr. Mahathir’s campaign this year.
The announcement is the latest turnaround in an election that has upended Malaysian politics. Mr. Mahathir, who also served as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, led a coalition of opposition parties to defeat Prime Minister Najib Razak, his former protégé, who has been accused of large-scale corruption.
The opposition victory ended a grip on power for Mr. Mahathir’s former party, the United Malays National Organization, that dated to the country’s independence from Britain in 1957.
Mr. Anwar was convicted on corruption and sodomy charges and sentenced to prison in 1999 in a case that was widely seen both as politically motivated and as happening at Mr. Mahathir’s direction.
That Mr. Mahathir and Mr. Anwar now find themselves on the same side again is a measure of the opposition’s urgency to oust Mr. Najib. And more: Mr. Mahathir has said he would be willing to step aside and clear the way for Mr. Anwar to become prime minister.
“Many of them suffered during his time as prime minister,” Ibrahim Suffian, executive director of the Merdeka Center, an independent survey group, said of Mr. Mahathir’s new allies. But, he added: “In the last couple years they found Mahathir to be a solid politician with deep grasp of gamesmanship required to win. They couldn’t get here without Mahathir, and they’re not about to abandon him.”
Mr. Anwar is now serving a second prison term that nominally ends in June.
The king indicated “he is willing to pardon Datuk Seri Anwar immediately, so we will go through the proper process of obtaining a pardon,” Mr. Mahathir said Friday at a news conference, using an honorific.
With Mr. Mahathir as he spoke was Mr. Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who will be the next deputy prime minister.
Mr. Mahathir did not give any indication of when a pardon of Mr. Anwar might occur, but said that once free, he should be able to return to political life.
ImageThe opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in 2013. He was an ally, then an enemy, and is now an ally again of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.CreditBazuki Muhammad/Reuters
“It is going to be a full pardon, which of course means he should not only be pardoned,