Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim won a by-election engineered for his return to parliament by an overwhelming majority on Saturday, bringing him closer to the premiership that has been promised to him by former foe, Mahathir Mohamad.
The victory marks Anwar’s official return to political life just five months after he was freed from jail, and will also be the first time that both he and Mahathir are members of parliament under the same banner after a bitter feud lasting over 20 years.
Anwar, who has been the face of Malaysia’s Reformasi or Reform movement over the past twenty years, won the seat by a majority of over 23,500 votes despite a low voter turnout on polling day in the coastal parliamentary seat of Port Dickson.
“Reform doesn’t end in one month, or four months, or a year. Reform means cleaning up and freeing the media, removing corruption, making ethical behavior a culture in politics,” he told supporters at a victory rally, broadcast live on social media.
“I would like to tell all of you who voted, and our friends from all over the country… I will not waste this trust given to me,” he said to cheers from hundreds gathered.
In May, Mahathir, 93, led the Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope, coalition to a spectacular victory in a general election, unseating his former protege Najib Razak and ending the 61-year rule of the Barisan Nasional coalition.
Anwar could not contest as he was in jail on a 2015 sodomy conviction, but his renewed partnership with Mahathir was key to the election win, after which Mahathir secured a royal pardon for Anwar.
The pair have had an acrimonious relationship over two decades sparked when Mahathir, during his previous tenure as prime minister, sacked Anwar as his deputy in 1998. A year later, Anwar was convicted of corruption and sodomy.
Anwar and his supporters maintain that all the charges were trumped up to end his political career.
Mahathir, now in his second stint as prime minister, has since publicly declared that he will step down in two years and make way for Anwar to become the country’s eighth prime minister.