KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—Malaysian pro-democracy leader Anwar Ibrahim was formally pardoned and released Wednesday after serving three years in detention on what he says was a trumped-up sodomy conviction, freeing him up to succeed Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad after his stunning election win last week.
Mr. Mahathir, who is 92, promised to arrange the pardon during the election campaign and said he would hand power to Mr. Anwar once he secures a seat in the country’s Parliament. The country’s king previously agreed to a pardon, which was formally granted in a ceremony at the royal palace in Kuala Lumpur before Mr. Anwar was due to return to his home.
Mr. Anwar, 70, didn’t say anything as he left the hospital where he has been detained for the past few months for treatment for his shoulder. Supporters chanted “Long live Anwar” and “Reformasi!,” the Malay word for “reform” as prison officers took him away in a black SUV.
Later, at a press conference, he told reporters that he would take some time to travel and perform public-speaking engagements overseas before considering his future political role. “I will be informed and I will take an interest,” he said. “But I don’t have to serve in the cabinet for now.”
Once the country’s main opposition leader, Mr. Anwar was jailed under the administration of former Prime Minister Najib Razak on sodomy charges that he says were fabricated to end his political career. He also spent an earlier stint in prison for sodomy after Mr. Mahathir fired him from his government in 1998. Mr. Anwar also said those charges were a smear to prevent him from challenging Mr. Mahathir for the premiership at the height of the 1990s Asian financial crisis. He spent six years in prison until his conviction was overturned after Mr. Mahathir initially retired in 2003.
On Tuesday, Mr. Mahathir said he would remain in power for one or two years before handing over the premiership to Mr. Anwar. Mr. Anwar has said he agrees with the time frame, saying Mr. Mahathir should be given time to achieve his immediate objectives. Chief of those is the new government’s effort to build a legal case against Mr. Najib, whom Mr. Mahathir and many others accuse of receiving hundreds of millions of dollars embezzled from state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB.
Mr. Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing. Mr. Mahathir has issued a travel ban preventing Mr. Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor leaving the country.
Anwar Ibrahim served three years in detention before his release Wednesday. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated he had served nearly five years. (May 16)
Write to James Hookway at firstname.lastname@example.org