The stand-off continues, tension mounts

Feelings running high at the red-shirt pro-government headquarters in Chiang Mai. As early as 6 pm there was both expectation and a lingering smell of Sang Som thai whisky in the air.... fortunately the over-exuberant youths present were few in number tonight.

A film was showing, with graphic clips of some of the worst of PAD excesses in recent weeks. Speaker after speaker condemned the total failure of the forces of order to act early enough to prevent the current ludicrous situation from arising in the first place. The feeling is clear - that powerful shadowy figures and interest groups are manipulating the situation to their own ends, and that the majority of the population - having made their presence felt through the electoral process - are now on the verge of being indefinitely sidelined, should the government give in to PAD demands and resign.

It was quiet in town, as most people were at the big rally taking place at Mae Rim, twenty minutes drive away, in front of Government House. I went out to take a look.

No suggestion here of the demonstrators taking over government buildings as Eve, tonight's adopted interpreter, went to some pains to point out. It would have been so easy for the several thousand-strong crowd to do so - there wasn't a policeman in sight. But she was adamant that this was not their way, that they would do all they could to continue to make their voices heard in a law-abiding manner. All the same, I can see that changing very rapidly, should the tanks move in...

(Sadly since the rally there have been bombings in Bangkok at Don Muang airport and Government House, with many wounded.)

The crowds rally in front of Chiang Mai's Government House, Mae Rim, November 29th. The numbers were impressive, but more would have turned up had there not been some entirely credible bomb threats. No police, no security on the way in, the park in front of the building in virtual darkness, it would have been a simple matter to plant a bomb and vanish in the confusion...

The speakers appealed for lawful protests so as to continue to contrast themselves with the antics of PAD

Eve owns a small business, the Kavil Guest House close to Thapae Gate in Chiang Mai. Hardly one of the PAD-stereotyped 'unintelligentsia' whose right to vote PAD believes should be limited in a 'New and Better' Thailand. Quite fluent in English, at ease expressing her insights and ideas, she was keen to explain her fears for the future.

A twelve room guesthouse charging between 180 and 250 baht (4 - 5 euros) a night is not going to make anyone rich, even in Thailand. Eve manages to get by on mostly full occupancy for a big part of the year. However the current turmoil is threatening her survival, despite having a few farangs booked in... they are only there because they can't get flights out of Thailand! When they've gone, she fears for the worst. Yet in discussing the occupation of Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports in Bangkok she quickly revealed the Thai achilles heel. She almost defended the reluctance of the police to storm the sites, trying to explain how because of an ingrained Buddhism-inspired compassion and respect for life, that this was not the 'Thai way'.

Eve readily accepts that former leaders of the political party she supports are far from perfect. She deplores the PAD propaganda that all 'redshirts' are Thaksin lovers, anxious to see him return to power in Thailand. She emphasised that most pro-government supporters have moved on from Thaksin and are more concerned about the right to vote, the continuation of policies supporting the less privileged in more remote and impoverished parts of the Kingdom. Democracy has become the new rallying cry - there is no longer the cult of the personality that PAD supporters would have foreign observers believe - even if the PPP supporters retain a soft spot for the man that gave them reason to believe in themselves and a new form of Thai politics.

Over the course of the evening, a number of people approached her to translate their views for me, to find out the foreigner's take on all this. They especially wanted to point out that their movement is acting within the law, unlike PAD. That they are ordinary people simply asking for the right to express themselves, and to have their votes and views both heard and respected. For a people who tend to take each day as it comes, they were clearly very worried about the future.

Ning, a young Thai student training to be a doctor, married to an US citizen and living in New York, is back in Chiang Mai to visit her family. She explained that only a couple of years ago she was so proud of her country and its newly discovered democracy, happy to tell people in her adopted home how much she loved Thailand and thought it the best place in the world to live. Now she felt ashamed to be Thai.

Tourist guide Darunee, who spoke both English and fluent French, has seen her income dwindle to nothing in recent weeks. She sees PAD as a minority group representing the rich middle classes, holding the entire country to ransom.

It was a chill breeze that kept Thailand's flag fluttering above Government House tonight...

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