NEW YORK • Malaysia's would-be prime minister said he expects to take over from Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in less than two years but wants to give him enough time to govern effectively before assuming control.
"Of course, it's not five years because he's made it very clear it would not exceed two years," Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, leader of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Wednesday.
"But it's important to allow him to govern effectively because we are in very difficult and trying times."
Tun Dr Mahathir had pledged during last year's election campaign to stand aside for Mr Anwar once the latter was pardoned over a controversial sodomy conviction, which happened just a week after the opposition's shock victory in May.
The 93-year-old Dr Mahathir then pushed back the timeline to one to two years. Mr Anwar concurred, saying he planned to travel and spend time with his family after more than three years of imprisonment.
The men have presented a united front to the public, giving Dr Mahathir a free hand to root out corruption and get to the bottom of a sprawling scandal over state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) before Mr Anwar steps in.
That public stance belies decades of enmity between them: Dr Mahathir fired Mr Anwar as his deputy in 1998 over a dispute on how to respond to the Asian financial crisis. Mr Anwar was later jailed for committing sodomy and abusing power, which he denied, then subsequently imprisoned on another sodomy conviction. He has said the charges were politically motivated.
Mr Anwar has shown signs of impatience, however. Despite saying he would spend a year away from politics, he returned to campaign for a Parliament seat just five months after his release.
He was then allowed a seat in the top circle of the ruling Pakatan Harapan's presidential council, while holding no Cabinet position. He also became chairman of a parliamentary caucus for reform and governance.
On another matter, Mr Anwar said Malaysia "will not compromise" in its talks with Goldman Sachs Group on 1MDB and that the bank "must bear responsibility".
He said he is not sure whether Malaysia can get the US$7.5 billion (S$10.2 billion) it is seeking from Goldman as compensation for the scandal, and that it is "not feasible" that top officials at Goldman Sachs were unaware of the situation as the deal was under way.
Malaysia filed criminal charges against the bank last December.
Units of the bank have been accused of making false statements in documents submitted to a local regulator in arranging US$6.5 billion bond offers for 1MDB.
Goldman officials have said the bank raised money for 1MDB without knowing the funds would be diverted, and that it is cooperating with the authorities.
But Mr Anwar said "it's not feasible or tenable to assume that the higher, top personalities in Goldman Sachs" were not aware.
He said the country now has sufficient safeguards over the banking sector but cautioned against complacency. "However rigid the safeguards, if you have crooks running the system, they can always navigate," he said.