KUALA LUMPUR - Are Malaysians a vengeful lot? It has to be asked.
Those who support the mandatory death penalty seem more interested in retribution than in its function as a deterrence.
A recent public opinion survey on the mandatory death penalty for murder, drug trafficking and Firearms (Enhanced Penalties) Act offences pinpointed it as the strongest reason given for imposing the death sentence.
A total of 1,535 Malaysians were asked in a Death Penalty Project survey whether they supported the death penalty, and were asked to impose their own sentences in 12 typical capital case-scenarios in our courts.
Prof Emeritus Roger Hood, who analysed and wrote the findings of the survey, said those who favoured a discretionary death penalty for at least one of the three crimes cited their main reasons as - circumstances differed, so not everyone convicted of one of these crimes would deserve to die (31 per cent); that some people can be rehabilitated (39 per cent); the death penalty should be reserved for only the most heinous forms of these crimes (30 per cent).
He said a higher proportion (62 per cent) of Malays (54 per cent of the sample) were in favour of the mandatory death penalty for murder than the Chinese (54 per cent), Indians (52 per cent) and non-Malay bumiputra (38 per cent).
"But in respect of age, gender, urban or rural living and work status, there were negligible differences in the level of support for the mandatory death penalty for murder, for trafficking in heroin of 15gm or more or for firearms offences," he added.
When ranking five preventive policies in terms of their likely effectiveness in reducing very violent crimes leading to death, Prof Hood said 48 per cent placed "greater number of executions" last and only 12 per cent ranked it first.
"If evidence were to be forthcoming that an innocent person had been executed, support for capital punishment would drop dramatically.
"Taken together, this evidence shows that the level and strength of support among the Malaysian public for the death penalty for murder is lower than is perhaps commonly supposed," he said.