Anwar Ibrahim entered politics as a student leader in Malaysia in the 1970s and stunned many when he joined the ruling party, teaming up with then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

He rose quickly through ranks to become finance minister in 1991 and deputy prime minister two years later.

But Anwar and Mahathir fell out in a spectacular fashion in 1998, as the Asian financial crisis plunged Malaysia's economy into recession and exposed long-rumoured differences at the top of government.

Anwar was sacked and charged with sodomy and corruption, triggering the biggest protests Malaysia had ever seen.

I am committed to have Malaysia to be just to everyone. This is important. I am a Malay Muslim. I care for my people. I cannot condone any practice that causes injustice to any citizen in our country, irrespective of if they are Muslims or non-Muslims, Malays, Chinese, Indians or from the tribal regions of Sabah and Sarawak.

Anwar Ibrahim

Found guilty following an often lurid trial - a stained mattress was dragged in and out of court at one point in the proceedings - Anwar, who said the charges were politically-motivated, was jailed.

In 2004, Malaysia's High Court ruled that there had been insufficient evidence and overturned Anwar's conviction.

After his release, he reentered politics and ran for a seat in parliament in 2008.

But with his political star in the ascendant, and the opposition parties threatening to unseat the coalition that had governed Malaysia since independence, Anwar was once again accused of sodomy. In 2015, after his final appeal was rejected, he was jailed.

Anwar maintained the charges were politically motivated and the opposition parties united behind Mahathir, who had retired in 2003 and switched sides amid a deepening scandal involving Prime Minister Najib Razak and billions of dollars of losses at state fund 1MDB.

In May 2018, after a shock election victory of the Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan coalition, Anwar was given a royal pardon.

With his release, Anwar returned to political life and Parti Keadilan Rakyat - the People's Justice Party - which had been founded by his wife to campaign for him and reform after he was sacked in 1998.

He entered parliament after winning the seat of Port Dickson, a seaside resort about 90 minutes south of Kuala Lumpur, and, in a twist few would have predicted, is once again working alongside Mahathir.

The 93-year-old politician has promised to hand over the job of prime minister to Anwar in two years.

"The fact that he [Mahathir] is prepared to work together,the fact that he is committed to the reform agenda, the fact that he came to see me [in prison], to me that is sufficient because we have to move on. And the agenda is more important than Anwar's personal predicament," Anwar tells Al Jazeera.

So after such a bumpy journey, what are Anwar's ambitions for Malaysia? And with Najib's trials on multiple charges of corruption getting under way in Kuala Lumpur, how does he plan to clean up Malaysia's political system?

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Anwar says that nurturing Malaysia's democracy is his primary goal, and to get there he wants to safeguard judicial independence and media freedom.

He says he is determined to tackle corruption, and is confident that "a country can effectively rid itself of corruption, endemic corruption."

He is also hoping to reclaim the solid economic performance that characterised his time as Malaysia's finance minister by pursuing "an economic policy that propels growth, yet at the same time, will not tolerate poverty in the midst of plenty, and gross inequality."

On Saudi Arabia's alleged connection to the 1MDB scandal, Anwar says transparency is key.

"The Saudis ... must be held accountable, they must explain, because Najib clearly said the money [$681m discovered in his private bank accounts] comes from Saudi Arabia ... he has admitted, by the way, that the prime minister can receive 2.6bn ringgit [$638m] into his personal account, which to me is clearly a crime, it is a corrupt practice. But because it involves some personalities or authorities in Saudi Arabia, we must hold that person or that entity into account," says Anwar.

"Our target is to recoup billions of dollars lost. Probably not in full, but we are determined to get the funds back."

With regards to Abu Dhabi's alleged involvement in the fund, Anwar says the investigation is in progress.

Commenting on his position in a multiethnic coalition grounded in pluralism in a world where the political mood seems to be shifting towards populism and polarisation, Anwar says justice is his priority. 

"We have to demand and implement justice for all," he says.

"I am committed to have Malaysia to be just to everyone. This is important. I am a Malay Muslim. I care for my people. I cannot condone any practice that causes injustice to any citizen in our country, irrespective of if they are Muslims or non-Muslims, Malays, Chinese, Indians or from the tribal regions of Sabah and Sarawak."

Source: Al Jazeera News