Pandemic has allowed for a paradigm shift in governance

The Covid 19 pandemic has not only turned the world upside down but also created incongruencies in man’s behavioral patterns. For the common people, it has created fear and suspicion.

It became a phobia to meet fellow human beings as everyone is a suspected carrier of this virus. Thus, the need for face masks, social distancing, hand sanitisation and even gloves.

Sporting, religious activities, congregational prayers and wedding celebrations were banned. This is the new normal in our lifestyle, which we must get accustomed to.

This pandemic has also engendered a new normal in curbing our lifestyles by imposing various forms of movement control orders.

Some might mistake such controls on movement as reflecting those of a police state, with roadblocks everywhere, a partial curfew, movement restricted initially to a 10km radius and then to districts and states. Interstate travel was banned.

All this was, however, done to curb the spread of the virus. However, this new normal in restricting movements and activities might continue for some time in the future.

Even governance has been subjected to a new normal based on current political realities, which brought about unprecedented administrative measures that would be unusual and against the grain of democratic practices.

For example, Parliament, which normally sits for weeks, was only convened for around three hours to hear the opening speech by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. No debate was allowed. Budgetary expenditure that require parliamentary approvals were dispensed with. This is unprecedented but the new norms based on new realities necessitated such manoevres.

It is expedient on the current administration to undertake unconventional measures as it is not encumbered by any electoral manifestos, thus giving it carte blanche authority to implement measures that may not be consonant with the standard operating procedures.

The current administration feels that this paradigm shift, which challenges accepted norms, may be necessary to meet the challenging and difficult times.

Other institutions are also adapting to this new norm, the result of political imperatives. Democratic tenets must be fashioned according to the needs of the time.

For example, the separation of powers of the executive, legislative and judiciary, the hallmarks of democracy, is to safeguard the interests of the people. They are no longer tenable in the current scenario where political realities require a new approach, that is the prominence of the executive.

In theory, the legislative arm enacts laws and approves budgetary expenditures and other policies and the executive branch executes the planning and implementation. The judiciary provides the checks and balances to contain any malfeasance or misfeasance.

But it is the administration of governance that gives the executive dominance through its majority in Parliament and the appointment of judges, which is in accordance with the executive protocols.

It is not surprising that new political realities and imperatives influence the management of the peoples’ lives, the country’s public and private sectors as well as the interpretation of judicial prerogatives and laws pertaining to the quest for truth and justice.

The coronavirus pandemic has unsettled not only the health and economy of the nation but also allowed for a paradigm shift in governance that has to accommodate the political realities of the time that require physical and mental realignment that may seem strange and disjointed.

Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin is with the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.