In the movie The Hobbit, Gandalf the Grey says, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I have found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk … simple acts of kindness and love.”
More than anything, in processing the extraordinary results of Malaysia’s historic 14th general election, my mind keeps coming back to that quote by Gandalf. For the record, I am not saying that any of the political parties involved in the election are evil by any stretch of the imagination, just to be clear. Rather, I am taken by the idea that the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk, and simple acts of kindness and love, can be extremely powerful in and of themselves.
I love Malaysia. But, when it comes down to it, what exactly do I mean when I say that? The fact is, Malaysia — or any other nation for that matter — is ultimately a concept. It’s an idea that we, who call ourselves Malaysians, share about who we are, collectively, and how we live with one another and treat one another. The concept of a “nation” is a social construct. People, on the other hand, are real.
You see, when I say that I love Malaysia, what I am really saying is that I love the people who I know — and, in a ton of cases, don’t know — and the way that we live together. I love the fact that we come from so many different backgrounds and learn so much from one another. I love the fact that we bond over food unlike any other national community I have ever encountered.
I love the fact that I can speak a sentence consisting of words from three or four different languages or dialects, and I trust that the message will come across. Most of all, I love that the vast majority of Malaysians, in general, want the same things and believe in the same dreams. This idea of a collective imagined community is Malaysia, our nation.
As such, when I think of this past general election I’ll obviously think of the results first, given how historic they are. But what leaves me feeling truly proud to be a Malaysian are my fellow Malaysians — every individual who did his or her part, for whichever side of the political divide that they support, in making these elections so memorable.
First, naturally, are the politicians. Say whatever you want about them, hitting the campaign trail is really hard work. I appreciate how much time and effort that they put into their respective campaigns, particularly those who were contesting in their opponents’ strongholds, knowing that they faced near certain defeat.
This does not also include all the work that they and their team members put in over the previous five years, be it those on the front lines or toiling at the back end, laying the pathway for the best odds at the polls. The first-time politicians are to be commended wholeheartedly in particular — putting themselves out there for the rakyat to see and to judge is no easy task.
Then, there are the millions and millions of voters all across the country and the world as well. Two special cases merit greater mention. First, I personally know of friends and family members who lined up for hours under the sun just to cast their vote for the cause that they believe in. It goes to show just how motivated and determined people were to cast their vote, putting to shame any inkling of the notion that a single vote does not matter.
Secondly, those who collaborated all around the world to get postal votes back to Malaysia in time. There were many wonderful stories of Malaysians camping out at airports to pass their ballots to fellow Malaysians who acted as carrier pigeons, travelling thousands of kilometres over the oceans just to ensure that these votes counted. This was gotong-royong and the Malaysian spirit at its very best. So, the next time someone tells you that your vote does not matter, tell them how much the votes of these people meant to them.
In addition, there are also the hundreds of thousands of volunteers that reported for duty all across the country. Civic activism must be applauded and encouraged. It was truly inspiring to see so many people, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity and religion, just sign up, in good faith, to ensure the most effective and efficient election day possible. From those who agreed to drive voters to the polls to the numerous polling and counting agents and to the clerks at the election booths — it bodes well for our nation that so many were willing to put the good of the nation above themselves.
Finally, there are also those individuals whose professions put them in the direct line of fire in political situations such as a general elections, individuals whose courage continues to be put to the test time after time. They include police officers and security volunteers who keep the peace and do their best to ensure the proceedings are orderly, and members of the press who continue to report the truth and hold all political parties accountable, regardless of how it may impact their livelihoods and their job security.
Together, all these individuals involved in this political process make Malaysia great. These individuals share the belief that the country should be a prosperous, kind, inclusive, caring and sustainable nation. And it is in these individuals that the true power of the nation resides. Over the next five years, we, the rakyat, must exercise this power, holding our elected representatives accountable to their promises, their word and their integrity.
In geographic terms, Malaysia is located smack in the middle of Southeast Asia, just above the equator, home to 30 million people. But, as was rightly pointed out in Marvel’s recent movie, Thor: Ragnarok, “Asgard (home of the Norse Gods) is not a place. It never was … Asgard is where our people stand.”
Malaysia is its people, and where we collectively stand. May the rakyat be forever blessed.
Nicholas Khaw is an economist with the Khazanah Research and Investment Strategy Division