The phrase ‘checks and balances’ is always treated as a plural noun. The mistake that I usually see is that it’s used as if both of the elements in the phrase are singular:
There must always be a check and balance. ❌
I tend to reword the sentence and ask the authors to see if they actually mean something like this:
There must always be a system of checks and balances. ✅
What does it actually mean, though? The phrase keeps popping up every time an election is around the corner, or when people start yelling about the Constitution. ‘Checks’ here doesn’t mean to examine (semak), but to limit (sekat). It’s a feature of democratic political systems—no one group can be all powerful because the others will check or limit its power, so power between the groups is balanced.
Lexico.com defines it as:
Counterbalancing influences by which an organisation or system is regulated, typically those ensuring that political power is not concentrated in the hands of individuals or groups
The separation between the judiciary (our courts), and the legislature (Parliament) and the executive (the ministers and cabinet) is part of the checks and balances on the system. Certain acts, such as declaring an Emergency, would put more power in the hands of the executive (specifically the prime minister) while suspending some of our constitutional rights, impairing the checks and balances we have in place. That’s one of the reasons why it caused such a furore when the intention was announced some time back.
I’m still against declaring a blanket Emergency on the whole country, by the way, if you need to know my stand on this.