Floodlights over Lumpini. (Photo by the author.)
It's just over a week since Suthep Thaungsuban cleared protest sites in Bangkok's streets and consolidated his protesters in central Bangkok's Lumpini Park. Determined that it's not a retreat, Suthep expects victory to come with the support of the courts, where the real battle is now playing out.
The move has freed up the traffic congestion of the capital (now its back to its normal cluttered state) and improved the security of protesters, who have been subject to grenade and IED attacks in recent months.
The park is blockaded. The sandbagged entrances are manned by Suthep's 'VIP Security' outfit – a hardened mob, many moustachioed, wearing fatigues, cowboy hats, balaclavas and scarves to hide their identity. Half a dozen army 'stations' occupy strategic locations around the park. Inside, the park has the atmosphere, as many joke in Bangkok, of a school camp.
Protesters take a break to play football in Lumpini. (Photo by the author.)
When the park is not covered in tents and blue tarp, its lake is a favourite jogging spot for locals and expats alike, so the occupation has frustrated many Bangkokians. There are few jogging here today. The exercise equipment is occupied by teams of young protesters egging each other on, many with their signature whistles still hanging around their bare chests.
In the south-western corner of the 58-hectare park is the stage. It is adorned with Thai flags, at its back a banner reads 'One country, One nation'. Suthep is there too. At dusk he stands on stage with other protest leaders and leads the Saturday crowd of a few thousand in the national anthem.
Such displays frustrate many. There is a sentiment that the protesters have hijacked the moral high ground by seizing the national identity. Protesters adorned with the national colours of red, white and blue ribbons (now synonymous with their cause) stand as they sing an impassioned version of the national anthem.
The park is separated into 'villages'. Each protest site has moved its camp to Lumpini Park in a mess of tents, tarps and makeshift clothes lines. During the day, a dozen buses take protesters to different ministries and companies owned by the Shinawatra family to lead vocal blockades before returning to their tent city at night.
Black mesh separates organising centres from tent villages. Since arriving at the park, protest leaders have been holding daily 'brainstorming' sessions on 'how the reforms will work', as one VIP security staffer explained.
There remains little appetite for international involvement in the crisis from many of the protesters, as 'they (the external actors) don't understand the complex situation'. This sentiment has hardened since UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon launched a mediation effort in January, largely seen by protesters as an effort led by caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Re-do elections in five provinces took place peacefully at the beginning of the month. But nine provinces in the Yellow Shirt-dominated south are yet to vote. As a result, a final outcome of the February general election cannot be called and the parliament cannot reach a quorum.
The embattled caretaker prime minister, recently called by the National Anti-Corruption Commission to hear charges that could still see her impeached, has spent much of the last fortnight in her heartland in the country's north (though some commentators believe closed-door meetings have likely occurred between Suthep and Yingluck). It is here that a new mobilisation of her support base has begun, with the leader of the mobilisation saying last week that they may descend on Bangkok in the coming weeks. Some in this movement have increased their calls for a north-south division of Thailand. Worryingly, one adviser to the Red Shirt movement, a former military officer, told the BBC that they were preparing to recruit 200,000 armed guards to march on Bangkok if Yingluck was forced from office.
With protests now in their fourth month, the crisis seems to be coming to a head in the courts, which are widely seen to be sympathetic to the protesters. Yet analysts and commentators can't seem to agree on a roadmap acceptable to both sides of the divide.
In the meantime, the caretaker government will remain starved of a meaningful budget and powers to keep the country moving. As such, despite the protesters' move to Lumpini Park, the state-of-play has changed little and the sorry saga carries on.