The Kingdom of Thailand (Thai: ราชอาณาจักรไทย, Ratcha Anachak Thai) is located in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by Cambodia and Laos to the east, Malaysia to its south, and Myanmar to its west. Its capitol is Bangkok.
Thailand's population is relatively homogeneous. More than 85% speak a dialect of Thai and share a common culture. This core population includes the central Thai (33.7% of the population, including Bangkok), Northeastern Thai (34.2%), northern Thai (18.8%), and southern Thai (13.3%).
The language of the central Thai population is the language taught in schools and used in government. Several other small Thai-speaking groups include the Shan, Lue, and Phutai.
Up to 12% of Thai are of significant Chinese heritage, but the Sino-Thai community is the best integrated in Southeast Asia. Malay-speaking Muslims of the south comprise another significant minority group (2.3%). Other groups include the Khmer; the Mon, who are substantially assimilated with the Thai; and the Vietnamese. Smaller mountain-dwelling tribes, such as the Hmong and Mein, as well as the Karen, number about 788,024.
- Population (2006): 65.28 million. (Data based on Bank of Thailand.)
- Labor force (2006): 36.43 million.
- Annual population growth rate (2006 est.): 0.3%.
- Ethnic groups: Thai 89%, other 11%.
- Religions: Buddhist 94-95%, Muslim 4-5%, Christian, Hindu, Brahmin, other.
- Languages: Thai (official language); English is the second language of the elite; regional dialects.
- Education: Years compulsory--12. Literacy--94.9% male, 90.5% female.
- Health (2006 est.): Infant mortality rate--19.5/1,000. Life expectancy--68 years male, 75 years female.
The population is mostly rural, concentrated in the rice-growing areas of the central, northeastern, and northern regions. However, as Thailand continues to industrialize, its urban population--31.6% of total population, principally in the Bangkok area--is growing.
The constitution mandates 12 years of free education, however, this is not provided universally. Education accounts for 18.0% of total government expenditures.
Theravada Buddhism is the major religion of Thailand and is the religion of about 95% of its people. The government permits religious diversity, and other major religions are represented. Spirit worship and animism are widely practiced.
Government and political conditions
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. From 1992 until the 2006 coup, the country was a functioning democracy with constitutional changes of government. Elections for a democratically elected government are expected in December 2007. The King has been given little direct power under Thailand's constitutions but is a symbol of national identity and unity. King Bhumibol (Rama IX)--who has been on the throne since 1946--commands enormous popular respect and moral authority, which he has used on occasion to resolve political crises that have threatened national stability.
Under the interim constitution in force between the 2006 coup and the enactment of the 2007 constitution, a unicameral National Legislative Assembly was appointed by the military leadership. Under the 1997 constitution, the National Assembly consisted of two chambers--the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate was a non-partisan body with limited legislative powers, composed of 200 directly elected members from constituent districts, with every province having at least one Senator. The House of Representatives had 500 members, 400 of whom were directly elected from constituent districts, and the remainder drawn proportionally from party lists. Under the 2007 constitution, the Senate will have 150 members, 76 of whom will be directly elected (one per district). The remaining 74 will be appointed by a panel comprised of judges and senior independent officials from a list of candidates compiled by the Election Commission. The House will have 480 members, 400 of whom will be directly elected from constituent districts and the remainder drawn proportionally from party lists.
Thailand's legal system blends principles of traditional Thai and Western laws. Under the 1997 constitution, the Constitutional Court was the highest court of appeals, though its jurisdiction was limited to clearly defined constitutional issues. Its members were nominated by the Senate and appointed by the King. The Courts of Justice have jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases and are organized in three tiers: Courts of First Instance, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Justice. Administrative courts have jurisdiction over suits between private parties and the government, and cases in which one government entity is suing another. In the current environment, the court system is largely the same, with the exception that the Constitutional Court has been replaced by a Constitutional Tribunal composed of judges from the other high courts. In Thailand's southern border provinces, where Muslims constitute the majority of the population, Provincial Islamic Committees have limited jurisdiction over probate, family, marriage, and divorce cases.
Thailand's 76 provinces include the metropolis of greater Bangkok. Bangkok's governor is popularly elected, but those of the remaining provinces are career civil servants appointed by the Ministry of Interior.
Southeast Asia has been inhabited for more than half a million years. Archaeological studies suggest that by 4000 BC, communities in what is now Thailand had emerged as centers of early bronze metallurgy. This development, along with the cultivation of wet rice, provided the impetus for social and political organization. Research suggests that these innovations may actually have been transmitted from there to the rest of Asia, including to China.
The Thai are related linguistically to Tai groups originating in southern China. Migrations from southern China to Southeast Asia may have occurred in the 6th and 7th centuries. Malay, Mon, and Khmer civilizations flourished in the region prior to the arrival of the ethnic Tai.
Thais date the founding of their nation to the 13th century. According to tradition, in 1238, Thai chieftains overthrew their Khmer overlords at Sukhothai and established a Thai kingdom. After its decline, a new Thai kingdom emerged in 1350 on the Chao Praya River. At the same time, there was an equally important Tai kingdom of Lanna, centered in Chiang Mai, which rivaled Sukhothai and Ayutthaya for centuries, and which defines northern Thai identity to this day.
At some point during the thirteenth century, Buddhism was brought to the country, another factor that would strongly influence the country. Combining uneasily with the native Hindu believers, it led to a warrior class of fighting Buddhists similar to that engendered in neighboring Cambodia, and created the Buddhist torture technique known as shinshi. Despite this, Buddhism remains an important and ancient part of the Thai culture.
The first ruler of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, King Rama Thibodi, made two important contributions to Thai history: the establishment and promotion of Theravada Buddhism as the official religion--to differentiate his kingdom from the neighboring Hindu kingdom of Angkor--and the compilation of the Dharmashastra, a legal code based on Hindu sources and traditional Thai custom. The Dharmashastra remained a tool of Thai law until late in the 19th century. Beginning with the Portuguese in the 16th century, Ayutthaya had some contact with the West, but until the 1800s, its relations with neighboring kingdoms and principalities, as well as with China, were of primary importance.
After more than 400 years of power, in 1767, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was brought down by invading Burmese armies and its capital burned. After a single-reign capital established at Thonburi by Taksin, a new capital city was founded in 1782, across the Chao Phraya at the site of present-day Bangkok, by the founder of the Chakri dynasty. The first Chakri king was crowned Rama I. Rama I's heirs became increasingly concerned with the threat of European colonialism after British victories in neighboring Burma in 1826.
The first Thai recognition of Western power in the region was the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the United Kingdom in 1826. In 1833, the United States began diplomatic exchanges with Siam, as Thailand was called until 1938. However, it was during the later reigns of Rama IV (or King Mongkut, 1851-68), and his son Rama V (King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910), that Thailand established firm rapprochement with Western powers. The Thais believe that the diplomatic skills of these monarchs, combined with the modernizing reforms of the Thai Government, made Siam the only country in South and Southeast Asia to avoid European colonization.
In 1932, a bloodless coup transformed the Government of Thailand from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) initially accepted this change but later surrendered the kingship to his 10-year-old nephew. Upon his abdication, King Prajadhipok said that the obligation of a ruler was to reign for the good of the whole people, not for a select few.
Although nominally a constitutional monarchy after 1932, Thailand was ruled by a series of military governments interspersed with brief periods of democracy. Following the 1932 revolution that imposed constitutional limits on the monarchy, Thai politics was dominated for a half-century by a military and bureaucratic elite. Changes of government were effected primarily by means of a long series of mostly bloodless coups. Thailand was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War until Japan's defeat in 1945.
- Schlesinger, Robert. Schlesinger's History of the East, 2nd ed. New York: Camport & Sons, 1986.
1. Wile, Dr. Jay L. Exploring Creation With Geography. Anderson: Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. 2007
2. CIA world factbook
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