Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Anwar Ibrahim has been freed from prison after receiving a full pardon from the king, the latest twist in a political journey worthy of a Hollywood plot.
Perhaps a film documenting the rise and fall and rise again of Malaysia’s former deputy prime minister and leader of a movement calling for government reforms would begin in the late 1990s with him entering a courtroom with a black eye.
Beaten by a police chief, the sight of a fallen politician against the backdrop of chants of his supporters shouting “reformasi” – reform in Bahasa – captivated an international audience.
The scene was a turning point for Malaysians, according to Bridget Welsh, an associate professor of political science at the John Cabot University.
“It was really a threshold Malaysia had never passed before – it created a lot of response in society,” said Welsh, a Malaysian politics expert.
“We also saw an expansion and broadening of civil society and it’s grown since then. Because the legacy of the Reformasi movement in 1999 is that every single election in Malaysia since then has been about who has been portrayed as the reformer and who is going to bring about change.”
Ibrahim, a man described as a fiercely ambitious politician, had risen up from being a student leader in the 1970s to becoming in the 1990s the protege and the right-hand man of Prime Minister Mahath