Denzil Peiris

Malaysia's system of censorship has now become self-defeating. Protest and dissent have gone underground.

Leaflets are surreptitiously leff in public places or dropped in letter boxes and presumably reach a wide readership. Even if they are grotesque distortions or fabrications, the Government cannot reply to them.

Malaysia is another Southeast Asian country coming face to face with the fact that, in an open society with a free press, although freedom can degenerate into licence, the right to criticise and to hold contrary opinion must, in the long run, constitute the surest safeguard to political and economic stability.

What is as significant is that the Baling crisis exposed the indequacies of the Government's strategy of economic development in the rural areas.

The industries in the urban complexes, the Arabian Nights' opulence of hotels for tourists, the cars that clog the city roads and the spending spree of the nouveaux riches and the new entrepreneurs, are the affluent side of a dual economy of some industrial growth along with an impoverished peasantry.

Statistically, Malaysia has had a "boom-boom" growth rate. But in terms of human conditions, a significant improvement in the rural people's lives has not occurred, though some growth may be observed. Malaysia is not unique in this.

It is the Asian drama: a microscopic number of the opulent urban living it up amid peasant poverty. Ironically, the most outstanding improvement in rural life is now turning into a two-edged sword.

In the rural areas, education is widespread and federal and state government scholarships offer rural youth the ladders to the universities.

However, one of its disturbing impacts is to make the rural student attending a city university agonisingly aware of the poverty back home in his kampung.

University education also furnishes him with the knowledge for a critical questioning of Government politicies and conduct. The spread of academic education is not matched with the growth of white-collar jobs.

The number of job-seekers grows, the rural young are beginning to think it is not enough to be a Malay; to get early employment, one must be a Malay with proper connections.

A Government White Paper, explaining the University of Malaya protest, saw the hidden hand of communist manipulation operating under the cover of the Chinese Language Society. As a general theory that the communists could exploit cultural movements, it is plausible.

As a blanket explanation for what happened at the universities, it is a tattered cloth. It raised several questions that could embarrass the Government.