Jakarta. High-profile Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim, dubbed the country's prime minister in waiting, said he has personally forgiven Najib Razak, under whose premiership he spent years in prison, but added that he supports a fair trial for the former prime minister and due process with regard to the graft case involving the disappearance of billions of dollars from the country's state fund, 1MDB.
"Many in the media have been waiting for my comments about the arrest of former Prime Minister Najib Razak. I personally have forgiven him, but if it is about robbing the people of their rights, stealing people's money ... it is not up to me," he said in Jakarta on Wednesday (04/07).
Anwar regained his freedom in mid-May after receiving a royal pardon. His release was the first success for the newly elected four-party coalition led by Mahathir Mohamad, a long-serving former prime minister.
Anwar spent nearly a decade in prison, first under Mahathir and then under Najib on what is said to have been politically motivated sodomy charges. He was initially jailed for a nine-year term in 1998 but released from prison after six years when his verdict was overturned. However, the acquittal was reversed in 2014 and he was sent back to prison for another five-year term, until his royal pardon this year. Najib is believed to be responsible for the last three-and-a-half years Anwar spent behind bars.
Mahathir, who was unhappy about the previous government's alleged involvement in a massive corruption case, decided to run in the general election on a campaign promise that he would restore the rule of law and eradicate corruption in Malaysia. He approached Anwar for his political backing before securing support from four parties, which ultimately handed him a surprising election victory in May against the long-ruling Barisan Nasional government led by Najib.
Anwar's arrival in Indonesia this week marked his second visit to the country since his release.
Speaking at the inaugural Executive Center for Global Leadership Forum in Jakarta on Wednesday, which was attended by prominent Indonesian business leaders and top government officials, Anwar said he supports a fair trial for Najib.
"I am a supporter of democracy and of a country [that adheres] to the rule of law," he said.
Following Najib's election defeat, Malaysia's antigraft agency finally found the courage to proceed with a years-long investigation against the former strongman. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) arrested Najib at his mansion in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday afternoon on allegations of corruption and the misuse of funds at 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state-owned company he founded in 2009, during his early years as prime minister.
The MACC opened an investigation into the misappropriation of 42 million ringgit ($10.6 million) from SRC International, which ended up in Najib's personal bank account. SRC International was a 1MDB subsidiary placed under the jurisdiction of the Malaysian Ministry of Finance in 2012.
Najib has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Mahathir's historic election victory is perceived as definitive progress for democracy in Malaysia. Najib's subsequent arrest two months later is yet another milestone, bringing hope for the country that Mahathir will uphold his campaign promises.
Mahathir, dubbed the "Father of Modern Malaysia" during his previous 22-year stint as prime minister that ended in 2003, was Anwar's mentor before becoming his foe after sacking him in 1999 during the height of Asian financial crisis.
However, with Najib as the common enemy, Anwar agreed to support Mahathir and they formed a coalition that saw Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, become Malaysia's new deputy prime minister.
She is the first woman to hold such an important post and one of only a few female politicians in the country.
Prime Minister in Waiting?
Mahathir, who is 92, previously said he would hand over power to Anwar in two years.
"Mahathir has repeatedly [promised] and I have no reason to doubt his integrity, his commitment," Anwar said.
He said Najib's arrest should set a precedent for other leaders.
"This is a lesson for political leaders – authority is about trust. Leaders must hold on to that trust; it's not merely about privileges and using power to steal from the people," Anwar said.