KUALA LUMPUR -- For a soft-spoken politician, Anwar Ibrahim angers quickly when talking about corruption.
"We have tried, for the last half-century, a pro-Bumiputra policy that benefited cronies and elites," he says, referring to the entrenched, race-based affirmative action system that favors his country's majority ethnic Malays. "Look at the figures. Poverty has increased! Inequality has increased!" he goes on, his voice rising as he counts the points off on his fingers. "It becomes like a clientelist system. And that needs to be rejected!"
The Nikkei Asian Review met Anwar, 72, in Kuala Lumpur during October to discuss Malaysia's future, more than a year after his opposition Pakatan Harapan -- "Alliance of Hope" -- coalition triumphed unexpectedly in national elections. It was a victory he celebrated from inside a prison hospital, however, having been imprisoned two years earlier on what many legal observers view as politically motivated charges of sodomy.
While awaiting release, Anwar could only watch as his longtime rival-turned-ally Mahathir Mohamad took power as prime minister. Now, he is waiting once again, this time for the fulfillment of an opaque pact with Mahathir in which the veteran prime minister is supposed to hand over power -- reportedly, within two years.
The vague details of that agreement -- when exactly will it happen? On what terms? -- are staple gossip in Malaysia, and also a topic on which Anwar has grown adept at deflecting questions. Instead, he wants to talk about his reform ambitions. During decades in opposition, he often pledged radical changes to clean up politics and heal racial disharmony. Now, as prime minister-in-waiting, he may soon be in a position to do something about it.