Sunday, 4 June 2017

My musing on the death penalty...

My musing on the death penalty...
Our local judiciary is feared by many because it is empowered by the law of the land to put a person to death by hanging for crimes like drug trafficking, murder and kidnapping. And it has the support of many too. 
About 10 years ago, more than 90% of those polled locally supported the death penalty. Recently, the numbers in support, though reduced, is still in the majority (80%).
You can say that the death penalty is our security blanket from the colonial past, which most of us still nibble on at night to give us that sense of safety and peace. 
As such, the death penalty like Section 377A is here to stay - at least for this or the next electoral premiership, if not longer. 
Nothing short of a legislature intervention would therefore be required if one wishes to whittle away this system of judicial execution that has kept our nation (almost) free from the scourge of drug abuse and addiction. 
Here, I can hear this indignant refrain supporting the death penalty: "What is a few cracked eggshells to make an omelette right?"
So, like Pontius Pilate, the judiciary effectively washes her hands over the matter since it is the hand of the executive that takes the lead here. 
And as long as that guarded executive grip still holds on to the rustic cold bar of the colonial days, where the death penalty was first adopted with a sense of vindictive urgency, the opponents of the death penalty would just have to contend with the backbencher's role of calling for its demise.
Personally, I feel that the Gordian knot of the infamous noose can only be loosened by a change of cultural mind-set. And the only way to move the hand that moves Parliament is to move the hearts of the people who can move the hand that moves Parliament. 
We therefore need a persuasion of democratic gravity if we ever hope to untie the knot, retire the noose and free the nation's conscience. This will take a while since the ghost of Independence past still echoes strongly in the chambers of the executive. 
Alas, the death penalty and the ISA have always been perceived as great psychological deterrence to preserve the much touted safety and security of the nation. 
On top of this, the opponents of the death penalty would have to contend with the majority here who still supports it. Reasons for this support are varied.
Maybe it is psychological, that is, they sleep better at night knowing that the hangman is doing his job in some non-descript location on a peculiar Friday dawn.
Maybe it is a matter of status quo, that is, if it ain't broken, why fix it? Or maybe it is Orwellian in nature where the power-that-be has done a swell job telling the masses that there is no other more effective alternative to the hangman's noose.
Whatever it is, I think the time has come for a public reassessment of the death penalty. What is required is a public discussion on an open forum. 
The focus should be on whether its effectiveness is still, or has always been, a matter of direct causation or mere correlation in keeping drug offenders at bay, or even both to varying degree and at different times.
And even if it is causation, we should still push the envelope further to consider whether one should distinguish the levels of culpability of the offender's act to possibly offer some elbow room for compassionate exemption. 
Or should it remain a cut-and-dry, strict liability thingy, that is, over 15g and you walk the green mile?
Just as it would take a village to raise a family, it would take the masses to start the debate going. 
You see, a life is still a life, and the custodian of the electoral trust should not take it for granted by making excuses to avoid taking the road less travelled.
Mind you, this less-travelled road may require us to search the nation's soul to ask tough questions as follows:-
"Why does normal people become drug addict? Why do they choose bondage rather than freedom, slavery rather than hope, and dependence rather than independence? 
And what are they escaping from? A vicious poverty cycle they can't get out of? An unequal economy they feel left out from? A broken home they are trapped in? A gated elitist society that finds they are not worth the time? A technocratic government that rather sees things black and white than the subtle shades of human greyness?
Or alas, maybe it's just their own unchanging (thus deserving) nature because being poor is a character flaw?"
As such, there should be no OB markers for this open discussion. All are welcome and included - proponents and opponents alike. 
On this note, I feel that the prosecution should not be the only authority who has the final say as to which side of the divide the guilty falls, that is, to live or to die.
When Haleem was spared the gallows, he pleaded for his friend Ridzuan: "If you are sparing my life and not sparing his life, I'd rather go down with him."
Justice Tay then replied, "You have certification from the Attorney-General's Chambers, he does not." 
Surely, a life deserves to go beyond an issued certification that will ultimately determine its fate, right? Putting it crudely, it is either he has done the crime and is put to death by statute or he is spared by statute. 
The decision seems uncanny to leave it to an unelected body (apart from the judiciary) whose unappealable decision is premised on post-trafficking "offence" (or the absence of it) other than the crime one has been duly convicted of. (What's more uncanny is that the one who issues the certificate or denies one is the exact party who prosecutes the crime). 
In any event, our world is changing and our colonial masters have long retired the hangman for good. It is therefore time for us to unravel the death penalty by examining the legal naunces layer by layer. We would do justice no favour if we adopt a dogmatic and complacent stand on the issue. 
For this reason, I duly acknowledge that the 2012 capital punishment revision (from mandatory to discretionary) is a good start, but let's not stop there (notwithstanding the "uncanny-ness" expressed earlier).
Our current law minister once said: "For us, the choice is clear. We want a drug-free Singapore, not a drug-tolerant Singapore." 
My hope is that in our bid to become a drug-free nation, we do not lose the very thing that makes us human, that is, our fortitude to see justice done for the victim as well as our compassion to temper that justice for reformable offender. 
At the end of the day, this is not about human rights; it's simply about human life (on both sides).
If we strike the right balance, we may just be able to do justice to the victims and spare lives for purpose of rehabilitation in our drive towards a drug-free society. And if we take the road less travelled, maybe the two are not mutually exclusive goals. Cheerz.

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