After years of suspension and legal jeopardy, he was sentenced to five years in prison on a sodomy charge in 2015. Originally scheduled to leave detention in June, he instead walked free on Wednesday morning.
He left Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, where he was recovering from shoulder surgery, at 11:30 a.m. along with his wife, Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is to become deputy prime minister.
Mobbed by well-wishers, the two got into a vehicle together to travel to the royal palace, where they had an audience with Malaysia’s king, Sultan Muhammad V, who made it official: Mr. Anwar had been fully pardoned, lifting a statutory five-year ban on his political activity and allowing him to pursue elected office quickly.
The ouster of Mr. Najib last week marked the first time UMNO had been out of power since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957. Many voters said they were upset about reports of widespread corruption, including accusations of the misappropriation of billions of dollars from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a state fund he once led.
Mr. Najib and his wife have been barred from leaving the country, and Mr. Mahathir said he would be investigated. Officials accused of covering up the scandal have stepped down or were suspended in some of the first official acts of the new government.
On Tuesday evening, the government released the executive summary of a 2016 report by the country’s Auditor General, a ministry, which Mr. Mahathir said Saturday would be declassified. While the contents of the report had been previously reported, the release showed the new commitment to transparency on the case. The Auditor General’s website was down most of the evening, apparently from high traffic.
While Mr. Anwar is now free, much more must happen before he could become prime minister. First, he must become a member of Parliament. Dr. Azizah has said in recent months that she could step down and allow him to run for her seat in a by-election, just as she did in 2008.