Singapore — Street Journalism on the part of The Online Citizen team recently posed this question to Singaporeans: Do you support the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking?
And the results were shocking.
Not because many were actually against the death penalty contrary to the much bandied about claim that most Singaporeans support the sentence for drug traffickers, but the startling relevation that most Singaporeans interviewed do not even understand what the word ‘mandatory’ meant.
Save for a young girl interviewed at the start of the video at Bugis Junction earlier last month, young Singaporeans who were posed the question had difficulty understanding its meaning. Suffice to say, it was the first time that many of them had thought about the issue of a mandatory death sentence for all drug traffickers in Singaporea without the discretion of the presiding judge weighing in to the verdict.
Judging from the protracted hesitation that many of these youths showed before they answered the question after a slight nudging from the interviewer, it is also clear that many of these youths do not have a latent position on the issue of mandatory death sentence in Singapore.
Cruely mirroring these youths were adult Singaporeans interviewed during the busy lunch hour at Raffles Place. Many of them struggled to provide a satisfactory definition of the word ‘mandatory’ and had no ready answer to why they adopted a particular slant towards the issue of the death penalty.
“Wah, it’s a sensitive question,” one man quipped before refusing to answer.
And this is a cause of worry for Singapore.
The main attitude that most Singaporeans harbour towards issues such as the death penalty can be surmised in one pithy statement: if it doesn’t concern me, why should I even bother to think about it?
For Singaporeans who were posed this question, it appears that whether another person receives the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking is largely of no important significance to them. Insofar as an issue does not skid their immediate bread and butter concerns, the average Singaporean can be safely assumed to be cooly apathetic towards it.
This assumption is in tangent with research showing that these issues still form the cornerstone of the concerns of most Singaporeans.
While an expectation that most Singaporeans interviewed should provide a complete and exhaustive answer to an issue as knotty as that of the death penalty is unrealistic, it is surely reasonable to assume that the average Singaporean could at least provide an answer to why they adopt a particular position on the issue at a prima facie level.
If the Singaporeans interviewed are a reliable sample of the general population’s attitudes, one indeed should have cause for worry.
This is not because most of them are for or against issue of a mandatory death penalty, but that almost of all them are already stumbling at the first block of even knowing what the question means.
Singaporeans must not only choose to pay selective attention to only their bread and butter concerns, for while they may abstain from confronting the important macro issues facing the Singapore society presently, these issues will almost certainly be an ineluctable and common destiny that will challenge all in the future.
In this, there is no better way to do so by questioning the very elite stratum of society that claims a privileged access to the only correct answer to any one issue.
And perhaps, the first step to prevent them from leveraging on any claims to an asymmetrical knowledge on the issue would be in picking up a dictionary and understanding what the word ‘mandatory’ means.