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Country Profile : Thailand

Country profile: Thailand

Map of Thailand

Thailand is a country of mountains, tropical rainforests and flat plains. Religion, the monarchy and the military have helped to shape its society and politics.

The 1980s brought economic boom, and the agriculture-based economy changed as Thais flocked to work in industry and the services sector.

But the bubble burst in 1997 with the south-east Asian financial crisis. Stock and property prices plummeted, dragging down the currency and leading to bankruptcies, recession and unemployment.

Overview

The government of the time - under Chuan Leekpai - worked with the IMF to reform the battered economy.

But the 1997 experience caused many Thais to regard international finance with deep distrust. Mr Chuan lost the 2001 elections to an opponent who promised to help people with their daily difficulties.

Bangkok: Skyline with cranes and 85-storey Baiyoke 2 skyscraper
Cranes vie with the capital's tallest building, the Baiyoke 2 tower

Though Thailand's recent governments have been civilian and democratically-elected, the country has seen turbulent times. The military governed, on and off, between 1947 and 1992 - a period characterised by coups, coup attempts and popular protests.

In September 2006, the military once again stepped into politics, carrying out a bloodless coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra while he was at the UN General Assembly.

An interim prime minister was appointed a month later.

By the end of 2007, the military junta had drafted a new constitution and held general elections, marking the beginning of the transition back to civilian rule.

Thailand has a minority Muslim population, concentrated in its southern provinces.

A decades-old separatist struggle in the region - which abated in the 1980s - flared again in 2004. The violence has claimed more than 3,000 lives.

Thailand's capital, Bangkok expanded rapidly with the influx of workers during the boom years. It is one of Asia's most vibrant, and heavily-congested, cities.

The large-scale sex industry which flourishes there contributed to the incidence of HIV infection - a major concern for the Thai government.

Thailand has taken the lead in the region in distributing cheaper generic drugs for Aids sufferers and awareness campaigns are credited with reducing the number of new infections.

Thai cuisine is known throughout the world for its use of hot, sweet and sour spices. Sculptures of the Buddha in sitting or reclining positions are also characteristic of Thailand, as is classical dance.

Facts

  • Full name: Kingdom of Thailand
  • Population: 67.8 million (UN, 2009)
  • Capital: Bangkok
  • Area: 513,115 sq km (198,115 sq miles)
  • Major language: Thai
  • Major religion: Buddhism
  • Life expectancy: 66 years (men), 72 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 baht = 100 satangs
  • Main exports: Food including rice, seafood and live animals, office equipment, textiles and clothing, rubber
  • GNI per capita: US $2,840 (World Bank, 2008)
  • Internet domain: .th
  • International dialling code: +66

Leaders

King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit
King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit

Head of state:

King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy.

Its king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, assumed the throne in June 1946 and is the world's longest-reigning monarch.

The royal family is revered by many Thais.

Prime minister: Abhisit Vejjajiva

Abhisit Vejjajiva defeated an ally of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a parliamentary vote to become Thailand's fifth head of government in a little over two years.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva
Abhisit Vejjajiva is supported by Thailand's educated middle classes

Mr Abhisit's election marked the first time his Democrat Party - Thailand's oldest - had formed a government in eight years.

The vote was the result of weeks of manoeuvring to persuade several minor parties which had supported the previous government to switch sides.

Mr Abhisit's predecessor, Somchai Wongsawat, an ally of Mr Thaksin, was forced from office in December 2008 by a Constitutional Court ruling that disbanded his People Power Party and barred its leaders from politics for five years.

The ruling came after months of protests by opponents of Mr Thaksin and his allies that closed the country's two main airports.

The protesters said the previous two years' governments were proxies for the discredited Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and has fled Thailand to escape corruption charges.

Mr Abhisit, 44, comes from a wealthy family of Thai-Chinese origins, and was educated at England's top public school, Eton, and Oxford University.

He joined the Democrats in 1992, at the age of 27, becoming its leader in 2005.

His supporters are mainly from Thailand's educated middle class, unlike former PM Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies, who draw their support from working class and rural Thais.

After his election, he said one of his main aims was to re-establish "national harmony" after the deeply polarising politics of recent years.

But the deep divisions within Thai society were once more highlighted when anti-government protesters stormed the venue of an ASEAN summit in the resort of Pattaya in April 2009, forcing the cancellation of the summit.

Media

The government and military control nearly all the national terrestrial television networks and operate many of Thailand's radio networks.

Multichannel TV, via cable and satellite, is widely available. The radio market, particularly in Bangkok, is fiercely competitive. There are more than 60 stations in and around the capital.

The media are free to criticise government policies, and cover instances of corruption and human rights abuses, but journalists tend to exercise self-censorship regarding the military, the monarchy, the judiciary and other sensitive issues.

The print media are largely privately-run, with a handful of Thai-language dailies accounting for most newspaper sales.

A series of media reforms are under way, aimed at reducing military interest and influence in the media and opening up more opportunities to the private sector.

There were 13.4 million internet users by March 2008 (ITU). According to The Nation daily, surfers face "some of the world's toughest measures on internet filtering". Pornographic sites, anti-monarchy sites and anti-government sites are targeted, the paper said.

The press

Television

Radio

  • Radio Thailand - national network and external service operated by National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT), part of government Public Relations Department
  • MCOT Radio Network - run by government agency MCOT; operates stations in Bangkok and provincial networks
  • Army Radio - network owned by Royal Thai Army

News agency

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