The Ma administration claims it cannot abolish the death penalty because of public calls to address criminality. However, study after study has shown that no correlation exists between capital punishment and the incidence of violent crime. Why retain it?
For an administration that has bought into the concept of “soft power,” President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) Cabinet shot itself in the foot on Friday by executing five death-row inmates, bringing the number of state executions in the past year to nine.
The government defended its action by repeating its claim that while it hopes to eventually abolish the death penalty, public sentiment favors retaining it. In other words, the administration is not guilty. Its hands were tied and, champion of democracy that it is, it had no choice but to listen to the public, even if it meant joining the ranks of the few “rogue” states that continue to defy the global trend toward abolition of capital punishment.
This rationalization contrasts sharply with other instances where, despite substantial public opposition, the Ma administration forged ahead with controversial policies, saying it knew what was in the best interest of the public. Therefore, what we are dealing with is not so much a democratic government, but one that uses democratic tools very selectively and only when it is convenient to do so.
Fully aware of opposition at home and of the sensitive timing of the executions — coming little more than a month after an investigation showed that an airman had been wrongfully convicted and put to death in 1997 — the administration also proceeded with the executions knowing that it would spark angry reactions among its allies.
My editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continnues here.