PETALING JAYA: A lack of trust in the country’s institutions has caused “significant harm” during the pandemic, including to science losing out to superstition and conspiracy theories, says Tunku Zain Al-Abidin Tuanku Muhriz.
The Negeri Sembilan prince said that over the past year, questions of leadership, accountability and transparency have accompanied decisions related to the tackling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“If we are to go beyond mere survival after the pandemic, we need to address these questions, we cannot just plod along as if everything is okay,” he said at a virtual forum hosted by Sunway Project for Asian and International Relations yesterday.
Tunku Zain, the founding president of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), said it is important for national institutions to be backed by public confidence and a strong constitutional foundation.
“These are things that are important for stability, prosperity, and happiness,” he said, adding that only with these in place can the country pursue more ambitious goals like the digital economy blueprint and sustainable development goals.
Tunku Zain said strong institutions backed by public confidence bring stability and ensure that policies have some level of predictability.
“During the pandemic, we saw how this lack of trust in institutions caused significant harm. We see how science has lost to superstition and conspiracy theories, how public health measures are derided as a conspiracy, or that the vaccine drive is a conspiracy.
“These attitudes gain traction when people lack confidence in institutions and feel they cannot trust the institutions to get them out of crisis,” he said.
He warned that the possibility of rising poverty will only exacerbate feelings of distrust among sections of the population who do not feel that their needs are taken care of.
It did not help when institutions themselves were tainted with corruption, a lack of transparency and accountability, or caused economic and environmental damage, he said.
When people lose trust in institutions, it opens up opportunities for “extremists” to undermine the society, which is supposed to be based on consensus.
“After a certain point, if there is too much erosion of trust, then rebuilding consensus becomes difficult.
“That is why the challenge for us is to restore hope in the people, to trust institutions, that the Federal Constitution is still worthy of upholding, that our system of parliamentary democracy can get us out of this pandemic,” he said.