The rise and rise of Anwar
Neither the late hour nor the persistent drizzle deter the 2,000 people, mostly elderly Chinese farm workers, from crowding a dimly lit abandoned car park on the edge of Ijok, about 35km west of Kuala Lumpur.
Passionately gesturing at the centre of the park is Malaysia's indefatigable politician, Anwar Ibrahim, working well past midnight as he makes a dramatic comeback to national politics from which he was unceremoniously removed in 1998.
Standing on a wobbly wooden box thrown over a ditch, the de facto opposition leader mesmerises with his presence, brilliant delivery and biting sarcasm. Despite six harsh years in prison, Mr Anwar comes across as young, vigorous and neat as a new pin.
He delights listeners with tales of the high life he knew as deputy prime minister from 1993, and the low as a prisoner - 'framed up and thrown into prison', as Mr Anwar puts it, until his release in 2004.
His message is the same everywhere: it is time to change the government. 'How long must we suffer the racial discrimination, the corruption and the abuse of power,' he says. 'Just feeling angry is not enough: vote now to change the government. Let's act now to build a new Malaysia. Malays, Chinese and Indian are all equal.'
The crowds erupt into shouts of 'Anwar! Anwar!'
His battle is no longer with his nemesis, Mahathir Mohamad, who retired as prime minister in 2003, but with the successor, Abdullah Badawi, whose reputation - like Mr Anwar's - is built around promoting Islam. But these days Mr Anwar seldom speaks about Islam.
'My goal is to rally the people and convince them to vote and change the government,' he said. 'No right-thinking person can tolerate the corruption, the violence and the abuses of this government.'
He says the opposition coalition he leads was 'cheated of victory' in an April 28 by-election in Ijok, a racially mixed rural constituency, where Mr Anwar fought tooth and nail against the Abdullah-led ruling National Front government. The outcome was seen as a litmus test of support for the loose coalition. A shaken government poured millions in development aid to narrowly win.
'Although defeated, Anwar showed his prowess uniting the divided opposition, giving it leadership and direction, and fighting,' said Ramasamy Palanisamy, a former professor of political science at the National University of Malaysia. 'He is a formidable political rival and the government is clearly shaken.'
Mr Anwar said his priority in the next few months was to tour the country to rally supporters and forge a coalition between his Keadilan party and two other feuding political parties - the Chinese-led secular Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS).
'We expect an early general election, so putting together a viable opposition coalition is an urgent priority,' Mr Anwar said.
It will be no easy task, even for Mr Anwar, but analysts say his comeback depends very much on it.
While the DAP is all for defending the secular constitution and its bill of rights, PAS's avowed aim is to set up an Islamic theocracy - a division that the National Front has exploited by stoking non-Malay fears of 'extremist Islam'.
Mr Anwar said he was confident of an 'opposition alliance' before the next general election.
But his own 'new Malaysia' platform is not without its minefields. At the core is his controversial demand to end the New Economic Policy, started in 1970 to give majority Malays preferential treatment in business, employment and property ownership. Mr Abdullah has indefinitely extended the policy, much to the delight of Malays. But non-Malays, who form 38 per cent of the population, are unhappy.
In the Ijok by-election, most Malays stayed with the government largely on its promise to protect and promote their privileges. However, Mr Anwar said that nearly 60 per cent of Chinese backed the opposition on its 'all races are equal' message.
'While Anwar has caught the attention of non-Malays with his call for equality, justice and fairness, Malays remain sceptical, fearing they would lose their special status,' said Stevan Gan, chief editor of Malaysiakini.com, an independent online news website.
It's a dilemma all opposition leaders have faced when seeking to unite the races to defeat the ruling coalition.
Another Anwar weakness the government is exploiting is his past as a radical Muslim leader and government minister who oversaw the implementation of Islamic policies and programmes.
It was Dr Mahathir who brought Mr Anwar into the ruling United Malays National Organisation party in 1982 to take charge of the 'Islamisation' of government policies to counter the more radical Islamist agenda advocated by PAS.
Many non-Muslims and some moderates hold Mr Anwar responsible for the upsurge in Islamic fundamentalism and the rising demands for sharia law to replace civil law.
In addition, Mr Anwar's controversial support as government minister for suppressing Chinese vernacular education has also come back to haunt him.
He has confronted the issues head on, admitting to 'errors and mistakes' and has even offered a public apology. But many voters remain unconvinced.
'He tries to be everything to everybody; he is not consistent,' said a senior editor with The Star daily. 'He left the opposition to join the government once. What is to hold him from doing it again?'
On the 'Islamisation programmes', Mr Anwar said his efforts were meant to encourage the adoption of the justice and humanistic traditions of Islam. 'I never encouraged extremism. And I am not an opportunist. I don't change because the politics are changing.'
However, by the time of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Mr Anwar had reinvented himself as a progressive, moderate Muslim leader who was well rounded and capable of taking over the premiership of a complex, multiethnic society.
But his falling out with Dr Mahathir ended that dream, and what followed were his most harrowing years: a purge from the government and Umno, a sordid trial for homosexuality and six years in jail; he was later acquitted.
'I fell into the gutters,' he said. 'I know how it is to be an outcast. There is only looking ahead for me.'
The immediate future is the general election widely expected by early next year.
The ruling 14-party National Front coalition, which holds 90 per cent of the 219 seats in parliament, is expected to win again, judging by the results of five by-elections since 2004 but by a reduced majority.
'Most voters are still unwilling to risk their future on the promises of one man, even a man like Anwar,' said Pathan Manivasagam, an Indian politician with the government. 'To convince them, Anwar has to show a credible opposition coalition that can form a government.'
Many Malaysians are also suspicious that, given a chance, Mr Anwar would abandon his 'agenda for change' and return to the Umno party.
'He is just too big a fish to be happy with opposition politics, which are really a dull, unglamorous affair,' said the newspaper editor.
But for now, Mr Anwar is the opposition poster boy and the general election may well be his last chance for a comeback.
'Anwar has his own unique charms and ambitions but even he cannot change the political reality of the country,' said the Sin Chew Jit Poh Chinese daily in an editorial last week. 'But his fabulous fighting spirit will keep him alive politically till the end.'
The highs and lows of a tumultuous career
1968-1971 Mr Anwar founded and made president of Muslim youth groups.
1974 Organised a student demonstration against poverty, and was arrested and held without trial for a year and half.
1982 Joined the Umno party, shocking supporters. It was seen as a major coup for then-party president and PM Mahathir Mohamad.
1983 to 1993 Aided by Dr Mahathir, Mr Anwar rose rapidly in Umno, becoming deputy prime minister and Umno deputy.
1996 Re-elected Umno deputy president and anointed as successor to Dr Mahathir.
1997 Appointed acting prime minister when Dr Mahathir went on leave.
1997-98 Asian financial crisis and differences over ways to respond to it soured relations between the two.
July 1998 A book, 50 Reasons Why Anwar Cannot Become Prime Minister, alleging homosexuality by Mr Anwar released at an Umno assembly.
Sep 1998 Dr Mahathir fires Mr Anwar.
Sep 20, 1998 Mr Anwar is arrested and later charged with corruption and sodomy.
1999 Imprisoned for six years for corruption.
2003 Dr Mahathir steps aside for Abdullah Badawi.
April 2004 Highest court acquits Mr Anwar of sodomy and frees him.
2007 Returns as the de-facto opposition leader.