Thailand country profile

Map of Thailand

Thailand is the only country in South East Asia to have escaped colonial rule. Buddhist religion, the monarchy and the military have helped to shape its society and politics.

The military has ruled for most of the period since 1947, with a few interludes in which the country had a democratically elected government.

Since 2001, Thai politics have been dominated by the deep split between supporters and detractors of Thaksin Shinawatra, who served as prime minister until he was ousted by the military in 2006.

In 2023, Thailand’s opposition parties secured by far the largest number of votes in national elections, as voters delivered a significant rebuke to the military-backed government that had ruled since the 2014 coup.

KINGDOM OF THAILAND: FACTS

  • Capital: Bangkok
  • Area: 513,120 sq km
  • Population: 69.6 million
  • Language: Thai
  • Life expectancy: 75 years (men) 83 years (women)

LEADERS

Head of state: King Maha Vajiralongkorn

Thailand's newly crowned King Maha Vajiralongkorn is carried in a golden palanquin during the coronation procession on May 5, 2019 in Bangkok

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. Maha Vajiralongkorn, the 10th Thai monarch of the Chakri dynasty, was proclaimed king in December 2016.

He succeeded his father King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest reigning monarch at the time, who died in October that year.

Prime minister: Srettha Thavisin

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin

Srettha Thavisin of the populist Pheu Thai party won the backing of parliament to become Thailand’s next prime minister in August 2023, paving the way for a new coalition government and putting an end to the political impasse that followed the country’s May elections.

The vote came hours after the Pheu Thai party’s billionaire figurehead Thaksin Shinawatra made an historic homecoming after years as a fugitive in self-imposed exile.

The progressive Move Forward Party, which won the most votes, was blocked from taking power by conservative senators – all of whom were appointed by the army following its 2014 coup. Thavisin’s appointment as prime minister cements his party’s coalition with its former military rivals.

Under Thailand’s constitution drafted under military rule after the coup, both houses of parliament must vote to select a new prime minister.

Thailand’s military has a seized power 12 times since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932.

MEDIA

A Tuk Tuk driver reads a newspaper while waiting for customers in Bangkok

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

The media are free to criticise government policies, and cover instances of corruption and human rights abuses.

However, a strict lese majeste law prohibits media in Thailand from reporting anything that could be deemed critical of the royal family, and journalists tend to exercise self-censorship regarding the military, the judiciary and other sensitive issues.

TIMELINE

A reclining Buddha at Wat Khun-Intha Pramul in Ang Thong province, north of Bangkok

Some key dates in Thailand’s history:

20,000BC – Evidence of continuous human habitation in present-day Thailand from this date onwards.

c. 2000BC – Beginnings of rice cultivation.

c. 1250-1000BC – Ban Chiang in northeast Thailand, currently the earliest known centre of copper and bronze production in South East Asia

500BC – Iron usage appears.

68-550AD – Funan Kingdom, centred on the Mekong Delta, becomes the area’s first known regional power.

802-1431 – Khmer Empire, centred on Angkor Wat in Cambodia, encompasses much of modern Thailand.

1238-1438 – Sukhothai Kingdom. Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao, a local Tai ruler, becomes the first ruler of the kingdom, based around Sukhothai in north-central Thailand, having rallied resistance to Khmer rule. In 1438 it falls under the influence of the neighbouring Ayutthaya.

1351-1767 – Ayutthaya Kingdom, centred on the http://clasicccop.com/ southern city of Ayutthaya, becomes on great powers of Asia, and is considered the precursor of modern Thailand.

Ayutthaya
Image caption,Ayutthaya reached its peak under the reign of King Narai the Great

1569-1584 – Ayutthaya temporarily becomes a vassal state of Taungoo Burma.

1656-1688 – Under Narai the Great, Ayutthaya makes commercial and diplomatic links with countries in the Middle East and West. It develops close diplomatic relations with Louis XIV in France. The kingdom sees intense rivalry between the competing Dutch, French and English trading companies.

1759-1760 and 1765-1767 – Burma’s Konbaung dynasty invades Ayutthaya.

1767 – Ayutthaya is captured by Burmese forces and destroyed.

1767-1782 – Thonburi Kingdom. Seat of power is moved south to Thonburi, now a district in present-day Bangkok. Founded by Taksin the Great, who reunites the country following the collapse of the Ayutthaya Kingdom.

1782 – Rattanakosin Kingdom founded. Army commander Phra Phutthayotfa Chulalok Maharaj overthrows Taksin and as Rama I becomes the first monarch of the reigning Chakri dynasty of Siam, now Thailand. Rattanakosin, now Bangkok, becomes the new capital of the reunited kingdom.

1896 – Rival colonial powers Britain and France agree to make Thailand’s central Chao Phraya valley a buffer state between their territories in India and Burma (now Myanmar) and France’s occupation of Indochina.

1932 – Absolute monarchy gives way to constitutional monarchy with parliamentary government.

1939 – Decree changes the name of the country from “Siam” to “Thailand”.

1940-41 – Following the fall of France in World War Two, Thailand fights a brief conflict with colonial Vichy France resulting in Thailand gaining some Lao and Cambodian territories.

1941 – Japan attacks US fleet at Pearl Harbor and invades Dutch East Indies. Japanese armies cross Thailand to invade Malaya and Burma. Thailand allies with Japan.

1947 – First post-1945 military coup. The military retains power continuously until 1973.

1954 – Thailand joins the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (Seato) to become an active US ally.

1961 – Following the United States’ increasing involvement in the Vietnam War, the US secretly agrees to protect Thailand. From the mid-60s onwards, The US uses Thai air bases to bomb North Vietnam.

1965-83 – Communist insurgency: Fought mainly between the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) and Thai government forces, the fighting winds down after 1980 following the announcement of an amnesty. More than 7,000 soldiers, government officials, insurgent and civilians are killed in the fighting.

1975 – End of the Vietnam war: South Vietnam collapses following the US withdrawal of military support, North Vietnamese forces sweep south and occupy Saigon.

1997 – Asian financial crisis ends Thailand’s 40 years of economic growth.

2001 – Populist Thaksin Shinawatra becomes prime minister for first time.

2006 – Military leaders stage a bloodless coup.

2011 – Pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai party wins a landslide victory in elections and his younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, becomes prime minister.

2014 – Military junta led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha seize power. The junta binds future governments to a 20-year national strategy ‘road map’ it laid down, effectively locking the country into military-guided democracy.

2016 – King Bhumibol Adulyadej dies after 70 years on the throne, and is succeeded by his son, Maha Vajiralongkorn.

2023 – Thailand’s charismaic former PM Thaksin Shinawatra is jailed on returning to the country after 15 years in self-imposed exile, though many believe he has done a deal meaning he will only serve a short period in prison.

Bangkok, busy road at night, with taxis waiting outside busy shopping complex

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