Wednesday, September 30, 1998 Published at 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Opposition emboldened by Anwar saga
Anwar supporters tear up newspaper reports of his arrest
By BBC East Asia analyst, Alice Donald
The political turmoil in Malaysia has entered a new and potentially more confrontational phase with the formation of two broad based coalitions to push for sweeping reform and the removal of the prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad.
The slogans shouted by crowds who have thronged the streets of Kuala Lumpur tell their own remarkable story: "Reform!" and "Mahathir Resign!".
Such open defiance of the authorities was unthinkable a few weeks ago. But there is a growing boldness among the opposition movement.
The two new formations have pledged to work together, and there is a large degree of overlap between their aims and membership.
Leaders of the Coalition for People's Democracy vowed to fight injustice and what they called the rape of democracy.
The second formation, calling itself the People's Justice Movement, has as one of its priorities the abolition of the draconian Internal Security Act, which was originally introduced by the British authorities in the colonial period.
Different races fighting under same banner
The coalitions bring together people from disparate backgrounds, from Islamic fundamentalists to women's rights advocates, from veteran socialists to environmentalists.
The challenge they face is to provide coherence and direction to a movement which draws on vastly different political cultures. Fissures may yet appear.
But the increasingly reviled figure of Dr Mahathir himself gives a focus to the protests, as does the outrage felt at the rough treatment of Mr Anwar and his supporters.
It is not yet clear how Mr Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, will align herself with the new groupings. She has become a forceful advocate for reform since her husband's arrest.
Mahathir exposed as never before
However, some opposition leaders have distanced themselves from his "Reformasi" movement, seeing it as too closely bound up with his personal fortunes and the future of the ruling UMNO party.
The opposition faces other dilemmas, too. By taking the calls for reform off the streets and into the formal political arena, they hope to appeal to the many Malaysians, and particularly the disgruntled middle classes, who fear mass political unrest.
Dr Mahathir has a battery of repressive legislation at his disposal to deal with the opposition.
Yet the traditional methods of snuffing out dissent are no longer working. Calls for reform are increasing, and are being voiced from within the majority Muslim Malay community, which controls the police, army and bureaucracy.
By concentrating power in his own hands, Dr Mahathir has left himself exposed as never before. The coming weeks could see the most serious challenge yet to South East Asia's longest serving leader.