Anwar Ibrahim, president-elect of Malaysia’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat party, commented on the corruption charges looming over former Prime Minister Najib Razak.
“It is atrocious,” Anwar told Al Jazeera’s UpFront host Mehdi Hasan. “This is one of the worst financial scandals involving any government.”
“It is, therefore, imperative that stiff action be taken. But this new government has said and ensured investigations will be professional. Prosecution must not be malicious and the judiciary must be independent.”
Allegations over the misappropriation of state funds at 1MDB emerged in 2015 as the public learned $4bn had gone missing, and nearly $700m was allegedly transferred into Najib’s bank account.
Anwar was also asked if he held Najib totally responsible for the 1MDB scandal.
“Yes,” he said. “I first raised this issue in parliament in 2011 and I stood by it throughout the years until I was arrested and in prison in 2015.
Speaking about his own political ambitions, Anwar explained why he changed his mind and decided to run for parliament so soon after being released.
“I was in prison a total 10 and a half years. What do you do? Read and relax,” he said.
“Now, four months have passed since the last elections … and I think it’s time for me to re-enter parliament to assist in parliamentary reform.”
In what were widely seen as politically motivated and trumped-up charges, Anwar was twice sent to prison under Malaysia’s controversial sodomy law. The current penalty for breaking it can result in up to 20 years imprisonment and public whipping.
“This is not only archaic, it is British colonial laws, introduced in India and replicated in Malaysia. It is completely unjust because one can be just accused, and without any proper evidence,” Anwar said.
“The laws must be amended to ensure there’s justice in the process and is not a matter of sexual orientation,” he added. “It’s what you perform or you display publicly, which is against the norms of the majority of Malaysians not only Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists alike in this country.”
During the interview, Anwar also commented on the recent public caning of two women accused of attempting to have sex in Malaysia’s northeastern state of Terengganu.
“I have condemned even the caning of lesbians by the Islamic party state of Terengganu,” he said. “I thought this was clearly unjust. Although they use sharia (Islamic law) as a basis, we cannot defend such action.”
With regards to the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s proposed bill to enhance the powers of Islamic courts in Kelantan state, Anwar said: “It is their interpretation that is being introduced, and we reject that. At least allow a forum to discuss this.
“So, we’ll have to re-look at the whole issue of this narrow obscure interpretation of the sharia, which we cannot endorse.”