The speakers for the Think Centre Human Rights Day Forum 2005, “Election Rights: Is it Right? Make Mandatory Death Penalty an Election Issue?” believed that the mandatory death penalty is unlikely to become an election issue as they believe that Singaporeans are more concerned with bread and butter matters.
The two hour forum at Oxford Hotel on December 3 that started at about 315 pm attracted about 30 audiences with lively debates on the mandatory death penalty and the Singapore elections.
The first speaker, Mr Jeyaretnam, a veteran Opposition politician, focuses on the state of elections.
“In Singapore, elections are programmed to a determined result in ensuring that those in power are returned to office,” he said.
He listed the various measures that the PAP government uses to ensure that the Opposition is stifled, among them: gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, the high election deposits, lawsuits to silence criticism, and instilling fear in the population through various measures such as numbering ballot papers that destroys the secrecy of voting.
He recounted the fear factor that was hyped up during the 1997 Cheng San General Elections when the then Prime Minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong, threatened voters with cutbacks on benefits in healthcare, transport and education if the Opposition was voted into office.
Mr Jeyaretnam also commented on the need for an independent elections commission, the GRC system which violates the equal suffrage of the one man one vote system and the setbacks that potential political candidates face.
NCMP, Steve Chia, believes that death penalty should not be mandatory though it should be reserved for certain crimes, including drug trafficking.
His informal and small sample base research done on heartlanders revealed that Singaporeans are in favour of the death sentence. He also recommended changing the style of execution in Singapore to lethal injection that was swiftly rebutted by an audience on the floor who pointed out that it is equally inhumane. He touched on elections in Singapore and added to the list of barriers stacked against Opposition such as the controlled media.
Think Centre President Mr Samydorai added that the Singapore government is wont to discredit Opposition politicians during elections. He also cited the large numbers of inmates for drug use as a worrying trend.
This was supported by figures in the forum handout revealing Singapore as a country with draconian laws.
Singapore has a high prison rate with 359 people in prison for every 100,000. This is the rate above the sum total of Cambodia (46), Malaysia (121), Brunei (120) and Indonesia (29). The Prison department in Singapore claimed that the high rate is due to the city-state with a dense population. It is complemented with the ranking from the International Centre for Prison Studies which placed Singapore at number 17th in the world for having the highest prison population per capita. The handout also said that the new Changi Prison Complex to be completed by 2008 would house 23,000 inmates.
Figures on the breakdown of persons executed in Singapore the last 5 years by nationality and offences (1999 – 2003) are also interesting to watch. 101 are Singaporeans while the remaining 37 are foreigners. 110 of them are drugs related offences while the other 28 are non-drugs related. 51 % of those sentenced to death were unemployed or working as unskilled workers, labourers or cleaners. 64% of them are either only primary educated or had no schooling.
During the forum, I raised the possibility of the death penalty as a viable elections issue that the Opposition could leverage upon. Even though Howard has publicly said that there will be no trade sanctions on an official level, increasing international and Australian scrutiny and mounting trade pressure may affect the Singapore economy. In short, political parties can put forward the notion to voters that the PAP’s firm stand on the mandatory death penalty will not only put Singapore in a bad light but also ultimately affect its economic interests.