Rapid Adaptation in Evolving Malaysia
The USAID/OTI Malaysia Reform Initiative (MARI) program was established to support Malaysians’ aspiration for a more democratic society. Launched in 2018, MARI aimed to support the newly elected government’s anti-corruption agenda. Recently, Malaysia’s democratic system of governance has faced multiple challenges both due to the prolonged impact of the global pandemic and prevailing political uncertainty. Less than halfway through their term, the ruling coalition changed. The new government now relies on a fragile majority and has prioritized political survival over reform. Further, in response to COVID-19, the government declared a National Emergency, resulting in the suspension of Parliament in January 2021. Despite the unexpected changes in the operating environment, the MARI program has provided support to Parliament, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and other key government institutions. Simultaneously, the program’s strategy adapted to the demand side of accountability through partners who are the forefront of advocating for democratic reform. The COVID -19 restrictions necessitated a rapid shift to virtual forums for stakeholder consultations. The MARI program helped civil society to adopt digital platforms for public engagement and build coalitions key policy reform issues. CLA approaches gave the program the flexibility to revise the strategic framework, continue creative programming within the new operating context, and navigate conflicting political priorities. Staying true to the locally-owned principles of OTI – the program has succeeded in maintaining relevance and effectiveness through openness to civil society, media and government input and frequent internal pause and reflect sessions with OTI and DAI team using the “One Team” approach.
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