BANGKOK — A prominent academic staged a rare public protest this morning over his university rector’s decision to become a Cabinet member in the country’s new military government.
Sukree Charoensuk, dean of Mahidol University's College of Music, wore a metal box on his head in a symbolic protest as he walked to attend a meeting with the university's rector, Rajata Rajatanavin, this morning. The metal box was a reference to the Thai idiom "putting a metal box over one's head," which describes feeling shame.
The university's rector, Dr. Rajata, was appointed Minister of Public Health in coup leader and Prime Minster Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s newly-sworn in Cabinet, which is expected to administer the country until elections are held next October at the earliest.
Mr. Sukree said he felt "ashamed" because Dr. Rajata accepted the job even though rectors are prohibited from holding political office under university regulations.
"He may have been appointed to the job as a Minister, but he should use his common sense and ethics. It is very important," Mr. Sukree said.
"I'm alone. I can only do this," he added. "Whether [Mr. Rajata] will quit or not is his business … But the fact that a person is holding two different positions at the same time makes me wonder, will he be able to do his job well?"
Mr. Sukree's protest was rare violation of the ban on public demonstrations put in place by the junta's National Council for Peace and Order, which seized power on 22 May under Gen. Prayuth's command.
Kittikorn Chamorndusit, a lecturer from the Faculty of Environment and Resources Studies and a member of the University Council, later met with Mr. Sukree and presented him with a bouquet of flowers to show his support.
"We are an educational institution that should be example for young people," Mr. Kittikorn told reporters. "The University Act clearly says that rectors cannot hold political office."
Mr. Kittikorn said he and other lecturers will continue to pressure Dr. Rajata to respect the university's regulation by organising public forums and calling an emergency University Council meeting to discuss the matter on 17 September.
Mahidol University's regulations also say that rectors must be able to work at the university full-time, which Dr. Rajata will not be able to do as long as he holds two jobs, Mr. Kittikorn added.
Reporters were not allowed to observe today's meeting, but university officials confirmed that Dr. Rajata was present. He did not give any comment to the press about Mr. Sukree's protest.
"Today's meeting proceeded according to usual schedule," a university official said. "There was no discussion about the controversy."
Last month, students at Thammasat University launched a campaign denouncing the school's rector for joining the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), another body in the interim government whose members were handpicked by the NCPO.