Yielding to Pressure
Much has been made of the decision announced by Dr. Somkit Lertpaithoon, Rector of Thammasat University, on his FaceBook page that the Nitirat group was banned from using university premises for their campaign to amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code (the lèse majesté law). As with other contentious decisions in Thai politics the rationale given for the decision is perhaps deliberately opaque.
One reason the Rector gave was that he feared use of university facilities might lead members of the public to believe that Thammasat as an institution was in support of the Nitirat campaign.
First of all, it implies that Thammasat has an abysmally low opinion of the common sense of the average Thai. If each and every Nitirat event was prefaced with a statement to the effect that the opinions expressed were not necessarily those of the university, then there’s only a problem if the audience is too thick, too prejudiced or too asleep to understand. Is that all you get at Thammasat events?
And in any case, Thammasat hosted all those PAD meetings and PAD’s attitude toward the Nitirat proposals have been little short of bloodthirsty. If you let both sides speak on campus, where’s the bias?
No, the more cogent reason is the second one given by Rector Somkit. If more Nitirat meetings were arranged, there is the danger of violence and we have all been urged by many voices, including the one from the Very Top, to preserve national unity. Giving the lunatic fringe an excuse for another 6th October would not achieve that goal.
This again reflects badly on Thai society, assuming as it does that the only way of resolving differences of opinion resembles the one favoured in Egyptian football matches. But it seems to have struck a chord in the Thammasat community.
Somchai Sobmaidai, a first-year student in Media Studies, has successfully petitioned the university authorities to cancel this term’s final examinations. He claimed that he and his friends were almost certain to fail Cartoons 101 and he couldn’t vouch for his friends’ behaviour should this happen.
According to Somchai, students who expected a failing grade were getting ready to fire-bomb the acharn’s office, stage a noisy public protest at the university gates and hack into the university website and leave obscene messages. Probably misspelled.
Student Somchai argued that giving students different grades, especially F’s, created division in the university body and did nothing to foster the national unity that we should all strive for. After consulting with the university authorities, the Faculty Dean cancelled the exams to avoid violence and disunity.
Protests by the teacher in charge of the course and the majority of students who had done the coursework and expected a decent grade were overruled. ‘Students must learn that there is a time and place for everything, and that includes giving in to threats and intimidation,’ said a representative of the Rector’s office. ‘This is an important part of Thai education.’
The university administration was then asked to look at the planned elections for the Student Council. The Front for Appropriate, Suitable and Correct Ideas among Students at Thammasat, a party with a platform based on the right to suppress inappropriate expression, argued that if they did not win the election (as seemed almost certain given that they had almost no support), they could not be held responsible for any violence that ensued.
They also argued that elections, requiring parties to put forward different and sometimes contradictory proposals, only confused students and if, in their confusion, students voted for different parties, disunity would result. This went against the basic aims of higher education in Thailand.
The university agreed. In the face of widespread protests, the university issued a statement that elections were not always necessary for a democracy. ‘Democracy means having good people in charge. If an election can do this, then we should hold an election. But often it is better for a democracy to choose its leaders by some other means. This is the most appropriate form of Thai democracy.’