Anwar Ibrahim declared a "new dawn for Malaysia" had arrived as he walked free from jail on Wednesday after receiving a royal pardon, paving the way for his return to national politics.
Anwar, 70, pledged to support top-to-bottom reform of the country after the corruption-plagued ruling coalition that had governed for six decades was dramatically voted out last week.
"Now there is a new dawn for Malaysia. I must thank the people of Malaysia," said Anwar, 70.
"The entire spectrum of Malaysians, regardless of race or religion, have stood by the principles of democracy and freedom. They demand change."
Anwar was freed after being pardoned for a sodomy conviction that put him behind bars for three years, but that was widely viewed as trumped up.
His pardon paves the way for him to dive back into national politics as the presumptive successor to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who -- in Anwar's absence -- led the democratic wave that toppled the long-ruling Barisan Nasional(BN) coalition.
The 92-year-old former autocrat Mahathir -- who headed BN for 22 years until 2003 -- came out of retirement to lead a disparate opposition to an unexpected election victory last week amid rising anger over a massive government corruption scandal.
Mahathir has said he expects to run the government for up to two years during an uncertain transition period but has signalled the reins would be turned over to Anwar, who lost his parliament seat with his criminal conviction.
Barisan Nasional was toppled in part because of deep national disgust with former leader Najib Razak, who stands accused of presiding over the plundering of a state investment fund he established.
Mahathir has barred Najib from leaving the country pending investigations.