The big reception for Lim Guan Eng by members of his own and other parties reflected the high hopes that he can unite opponents of the Government into a force capable of dealing a significant blow to the ruling National Front coalition in the impending general election.
The shouts of "reformasi" outside the prison by Anwar Ibrahim's supporters underlined the interest they have in the newly freed opposition leader.
Mr Lim and Anwar were political foes before the events that landed them both in jail.
Now they find themselves allies in a political campaign to oust the Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, whom they have both fiercely attacked.
While Anwar's political future is in doubt as long as he is in jail and Mr Lim cannot stand for Parliament for five years following his prison term, they are the charismatic figures around whom the opposition election campaign is being constructed.
Anwar can only speak from his cell but Mr Lim is scheduled to travel the country, promoting himself and the former government leader as victims of a system that they claim is flawed, corrupt and unjust. Mr Lim's importance to the loose alliance formed by his Democratic Action Party (DAP), the fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), the National Justice Party (Keadilan) headed by Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Ismail, and the small Malaysian People's Party, was reflected in a letter written to him by Keadilan vice-president Chandra Muzaffar.
Mr Muzaffar said greater effort was needed to transform their movement into a powerful political force that transcended ethnic boundaries.
"Our Chinese sisters and brothers in particular have to be persuaded that our movement for change is committed to justice for all," he said.
He said that given his image and standing, Mr Lim was "in a position to convey this message". But the letter also highlighted the problem for the DAP and its allies.
Some Chinese are concerned that the DAP should be aligning itself with PAS, which advocates an Islamic state in which the present relaxed attitudes to different religions, races and customs could be forcefully changed.
Since the opposition is barred from making an election pitch on television and gets only a fraction of the press coverage given to government parties, Mr Lim will have to get his message across at public meetings.
He may be able to generate some excitement by virtue of his perceived victimisation among some Malaysians but whether this will translate into votes is not certain.
Published in the South China Morning Post. Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.