More than two-thirds of Singaporeans support the death penalty, according to a survey that found those with university-level education were more likely to be in favour.
Seventy per cent of the 1,500 people aged between 18 and 74 who were surveyed supported the death penalty, with 8 per cent of those being “strongly in favour” of judicial executions.
Of the 30 per cent against, three per cent were strongly opposed.
Meanwhile, 92 per cent of those in favour said they approved in general of using it in cases of intentional murder, 88 per cent for firearms offences, and 86 per cent for drug trafficking.
Commissioned by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and led by prominent local legal experts, the survey is the first of its kind to delve into public opinion surrounding a judicial practice that has consistently put the affluent Southeast Asian city-state in the crosshairs of international rights groups.
Singapore imposes the death penalty for offences including murder, serious cases of drug trafficking and some firearm offences.
Activists have long argued the death penalty has little deterrent effect but the government insists otherwise, claiming it helps to maintain Singapore’s status as one of the world’s safest places.
In 2012, the city state’s parliament passed legal reforms that abolished mandatory death sentences in certain drug trafficking and murder cases.
“When placed in context, support for mandatory sentences…was weaker than often portrayed, in particular for drug trafficking and firearm offences where no death or injury has occurred,” the researchers who led the survey said.
The data suggested people of age 66 or above were more likely to support the death penalty. Those who had degree qualifications were 1.7 times more likely to support it compared to those with primary or lower education.
Of religious groups, “Chinese religionists are 2.3 times more likely to support the death penalty than Protestants, while Catholics are two times less inclined to do so than Protestants,” the researchers said.
“We would need to do further research to make an attempt at explaining these findings,” they added.
Kirsten Han, a leading Singaporean activist against the death penalty, told This Week in Asia the tiny but vocal abolitionist movement had “never been under any illusion that there is support for abolition of the death penalty in Singapore”.
She said it was noteworthy that the study showed “support is lowest when it comes to the death penalty for drug offences, but the majority of death row cases and execution cases in Singapore are for drugs”.
“If anything, this study emphasises just how much more work needs to be done to educate the public and point out the gap between their impression of capital punishment, and how it actually works in reality,” Han said.
The survey, conducted between April and May, was based on a similar project conducted in Malaysia in 2013 by Oxford University professor Roger Hood.
That survey found 91 per cent of Malaysians supported the death penalty in murder cases, with between 74 and 83 per cent approving its use for drug trafficking or firearms offences.
Of the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), only Cambodia and the Philippines have abolished the death penalty.
The Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this year said he would support the reintroduction of the death penalty to boost his controversial war on crime and drugs.
Hong Kong, which like Singapore and Malaysia inherited capital punishment laws from its colonial ruler Britain, formally abolished the punishment in 1993. The last execution in the territory took place in 1966. ■