Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi gave a small hint yesterday that the authorities might at some stage respond to calls for change by Malaysians unhappy with the political system and legal structure. While declaring that the Government 'must always keep the doors of change open', he disparaged the 'liberal democracy championed by the West and deified by naive Asians', which, he said, could not and should not be applied to every country. Mr Badawi described as 'simplified and misplaced' the view of the West and some Malaysians that although Malaysia had the appearance of a democracy in the form of regular elections it did not have the attendant civil and political liberties, such as freedom of expression and speech. 'The fact of the matter is that our democracy works and it works for the people of Malaysia,' he said. Providing his most detailed analysis of major issues since he took office as Deputy Prime Minister a year ago, Mr Badawi said the 'curtailment of so-called inalienable rights of the individual' had always been 'rightly justified by the considerations of the community'. 'If Malaysia has erred, we have erred on the side of caution,' he said. In his remarks on change, Mr Badawi - speaking at a conference on 'Malaysian Politics in the 21st Century', organised by the Malaysian Strategic Research Centre - appeared to be portraying himself as a hope for the future for liberal Malaysians. But there was little in his speech to suggest he would be different in any significant way from Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has made attacks on Western 'liberal democracy' a regular feature of his speeches. Expectations among many Malaysians that Mr Badawi, who is also Home Minister, would be less rigorous in applying Malaysia's tough laws because of his 'Mr Nice Guy' reputation, foundered last month when police arrested several opposition politicians on a range of charges. However, a conciliatory note in his speech appeared to be designed to restore his amiable image. Mr Badawi, who is likely to become the country's next leader, said the task of governing Malaysia in the 21st century would 'have to take into account the demands of a more educated and better informed populace'. 'Governments must continue to be relevant and must adequately mirror the aspirations of the people,' he said. Of special interest was his description of Malaysia's laws, which include the draconian Internal Security Act, Sedition Act and Official Secrets Act, as 'evolutionary'. The opposition leaders who were arrested recently were charged under the last two laws. 'Nothing is cast in stone and for us to have a dynamic political structure underpinned by a living constitution, we must always keep the doors of change open,' the Deputy Prime Minister said.