BANGKOK — A representative from Thailand’s newest progressive party said it would work to ban freshmen hazing at universities and schools if it comes to power in the next election.
Speaking Sunday at Thammasat University, Pannika Wanich of the Future Forward Party staked out the most aggressive position on practices commonly called SOTUS – Seniority, Order, Tradition, Unity and Spirit – among counterparts from several parties who alternately described it as abusive or merely a flawed tradition.
“SOTUS is a Nazi, authoritarian system. There is nothing democratic about SOTUS values,” Pannika said. “It creates a culture of submitting to authority to aid in your own survival and in hope of benefiting later. The status quo is preserved while only the people at the very top benefit.”
The Pheu Thai party rep agreed that other than abuse of freshmen, SOTUS contributed to a favoritism-filled civil service in society that cowed underlings to superiors. The Democrat and Phumjaithai parties, however, wrote the hazing tradition off as a neutral system that has occasional flare-ups of abusive behavior.
Hazing activities under SOTUS, which often go into the realm of physical, verbal or psychological abuse of freshmen by upperclassmen, have come under fire over the last six years, most visibly through Anti Sotus, the online advocacy group which hosted Sunday’s talk.
At the other end of the spectrum, the representative from Thailand’s oldest political party saw no connection between university hazing and broader social issues.
“SOTUS is a neutral system. But I do not agree with using it in a bad way, with ridiculous and strange punishments like kissing each other or beating each other,” party spokesman Kanawat Chantaralawan said. “It doesn’t mean that we have to destroy the whole system by submitting letters to the Ministry of Education. That won’t work.”
Kanawat, 29, said that hazing activities should be voluntary, with no repercussions for students who do not want to participate.
Sathit Thepwongsirirat of the Phumjaithai Party, a former Surin MP, described hazing as a neutral system that is over and done within the first year of college.
“If SOTUS falls out of favor generation after generation, then the system will just disappear gradually,” he said, arguing no legislation was needed as “the government already makes too many laws.”
Without going so far as Future Forward, the representative of the political party that’s won every open election since the turn of the millenium said the century-old practice is outdated and limits the kind of free thinking vital to a democratic society.
“There are many more ways for upperclassmen and underclassmen to get to known each other rather than rubbing each other’s nuts,” said Treerat Sirichantaropas of the Pheu Thai Party, referring to rampant sexually and physically abusive practices.
Treerat said that universities should have rules against coercion from upperclassmen, and that high school students should be informed of their rights and told they can walk away from hazing.
Treerat agreed with Pannika’s assessment that SOTUS persists in Thai society at large, especially the civil service, leading to government workers who take better care of their superiors than civilians.
But it was the newly established progressive party’s spokeswoman who presented the most extreme view, calling SOTUS a parasitic force that abuses youth, inculcates a culture of subservience and establishes cliques of lifelong privilege and cronyism.
“SOTUS retards the nation’s development,” she said, citing common practice at the Interior Ministry to hire from the political science faculties of the elite Chulalongkorn and Thammasat universities.
Pannika, 30, said SOTUS should be abolished and replaced with normal welcoming or open house activities.
She called on new voters to come out against SOTUS in the next general election, when 7.4 million young, first-time voters will be eligible to cast ballots.