KUALA LUMPUR (AP) - Malaysian ex-deputy leader Anwar Ibrahim said he intends to contest the country's next general election set for 2009, but predicted the government he once backed would call for polls early to prevent him from running.
Anwar, 59, was sacked in September 1998 following a fallout with then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad over economic policies. He was arrested, tried for corruption and sodomy, and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Anwar was released in September 2004 when the sodomy conviction was overturned, but he is banned from running for political office until April 2008 because of the corruption sentence that he served.
"I have reason to suspect it (the election) will be held before April 2008," he said late Friday at a small gathering in Kuala Lumpur. "I'm a Malaysian citizen. Why can't I participate?"
Now a visiting lecturer at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Anwar tested the waters for a return to politics in previous visits to Malaysia, drawing thousands in rallies across the country.
He stayed abroad after his release because he "couldn't get a job" here, but will be spending more time in Malaysia from May, he said.
"I will encourage our friends to work harder to support the opposition agenda," he said.
He said his wife, Azizah Ismail, may vacate her parliamentary seat for him in northern Penang state - a seat he held from the early 1980s until his arrest.
Anwar is now adviser to the People's Justice Party - formed by Azizah after his arrest. It initially garnered substantial support following his sacking, but was overwhelmed by the ruling National Front party in elections two years ago.
In his comments Friday, Anwar focused on the economy and education - portfolios he held while in government.
"They (the government) have a problem because the economy is not doing well," he said, calling for an end to the country's affirmative action program for Malays that has dominated Malaysia's economic policy since 1970.
"How do you accept that a policy introduced in 1970 remains sacred till today?" he said. "The new approach must be to get Malays to participate with their Chinese counterparts."
Malaysia's 26 million population has a majority Malay population, with ethnic Chinese and Indians forming the main minorities.
The decades-old New Economic Policy was designed to bridge the economic gap between Malays and other ethnic groups. It allows Malays to receive preferential treatment for university placement and business contracts, while giving them discounts for housing purchases.
Anwar alleged the government had wasted "billions" of dollars by propping up "mega companies" owned by Malay businessmen.
"You cannot compete with affirmative action ... it breeds mediocrity. It will weaken the economic base of our fabric," he said.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is scheduled to deliver the next edition of the economic policy, dubbed the Ninth Malaysia Plan, next week.