Thailand retains a tradition of trade with its neighboring states, and the cultures of the Indian ocean and the South China sea. European trade and influence arrived to Thailand in the 16th century, beginning with the Portuguese. Despite European pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation never to have been colonised. Two main reasons for this were that Thailand had a long succession of very able rulers in the 1800s and that it was able to exploit the rivalry and tension between the French and the British. As a result, the country remained as a buffer state between parts of Southeast Asia that were colonized by the two colonial powers. Despite this, Western influence led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions, most notably being the loss of large territory on the east side of the Mekong to the French and the step by step absorption by Britain of the Shan (Thai Yai) States (now in Burma) and the Malay Peninsula. The loss initially included Penang and Tumasik and eventually culminated in the loss of three predominantly ethnic-Malay southern provinces, which later became Malaysia's three northern states, under the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909.
In 1932, a bloodless revolution resulted in a new constitutional monarchy. During World War II, Thailand became an ally of Japan while at the same time maintaining an active anti-Japanese resistance movement known as the Seri Thai. After the war, Thailand emerged as an ally of the United States. As with many of the developing nations during the Cold War, Thailand then went through decades of political transgression characterised by coups d'état as one military regime replaced another, but eventually progressed towards a stable prosperity and democracy in the 1980s.
In 1997, Thailand was hit with the Asian financial crisis and the Thai baht for a short time peaked at 56 baht to the US dollar compared to about 25 baht to the dollar before 1997. Since then, the baht has regained most of its strength and as of 26 December 2008, is valued at 34.71 baht to the US dollar.
The official calendar in Thailand is based on Eastern version of the Buddhist Era, which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian (western) calendar. For example, the year AD 2008 is called 2551 BE in Thailand.
Politics The 1997 Constitution was the first constitution to be drafted by popularly-elected Constitutional Drafting Assembly, and was popularly called the "People's Constitution."
The 1997 Constitution created a bicameral legislature. For the first time in Thai history, both houses were directly elected. Many human rights are explicitly acknowledged, and measures were established to increase the stability of elected governments. The House was elected by the first-past-the-post system, where only one candidate with a simple majority could be elected in one constituency. The Senate was elected based on the province system, where one province can return more than one Senator depending on its population size. Members of the House of Representatives served four-year terms, while Senators served six-year terms.
The court system included a constitutional court with jurisdiction over the constitutionality of parliamentary acts, royal decrees, and political matters.
The January 2001 general election, the first election under the 1997 Constitution, was called the most open, corruption-free election in Thai history. The subsequent government was the first in Thai history to complete a 4-year term. The 2005 election had the highest voter turnout in Thai history and was noted for a marked reduction in vote-buying compared to previous elections.
In early 2006, significant pressure from corruption allegations led Thaksin Shinawatra to call for a snap election. The opposition boycotted the elections and Thaksin was re-elected. Pressure continued to build, leading to a military coup on 19 September 2006.
The People's Power Party (Thailand), led by Samak Sundaravej formed a government with five smaller parties. Following several court rulings against him in a variety of scandals, and surviving a vote of no confidence, and protesters blockading government buildings and airports, in September 2008, Sundaravej was removed from office by the Constitutional Court of Thailand. He was replaced by PPP member Somchai Wongsawat. As of October 2008, Wongsawat was unable to access his offices, which were occupied by protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy. On December 2, 2008, Thailand's Constitutional Court banned the ruling Peoples Power Party.
Thailand remains an active member of the regional Association of South-East Asian Nations.
Thailand is divided into 75 provinces , which are gathered into 5 groups of provinces by location. There are also 2 special governed districts: the capital Bangkok (Krung Thep Maha Nakhon) and Pattaya, of which Bangkok is at provincial level and thus often counted as a 76th province.
- Bangkok Metropolitan Area - 10,061,726
- Chiang Mai Metropolitan Area - 957,634
- Pattaya-Chonburi Metropolitan Area - 957,298
- Greater Hatyai-Songkhla Metropolitan Area - 712,900
- Nakhon Ratchasima Metropolitan Area - 429,853
- Phuket Province - 321,802
Thailand is an emerging economy. After enjoying the world's highest growth rate from 1985 to 1996 - averaging 9.4% annually - increased pressure on Thailand's currency, the baht, in 1997, the year in which the economy contracted by 1.9% led to a crisis that uncovered financial sector weaknesses and forced the Chavalit Yongchaiyudh administration to float the currency, however, Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh was forced to resign after his cabinet came under fire for its slow response to the crisis. The Baht was pegged at 25 to the US dollar from 1978 to 1997, however, the baht reached its lowest point of 56 to the US dollar in January 1998 and the economy contracted by 10.8% that year. This collapse prompted the Asian financial crisis.
Thailand's economy started to recover in 1999, expanding 4.2% and 4.4% in 2000, largely due to strong exports. Growth (2.2%) was dampened by the softening of the global economy in 2001, but picked up in the subsequent years due to strong growth in Asia, a relatively weak baht encouraging exports and increasing domestic spending as a result of several mega projects and incentives of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, known as Thaksinomics. Growth in 2002, 2003 and 2004 was 5-7% annually. Growth in 2005, 2006 and 2007 hovered around 4-5% Due both to the weakening of the US dollar and an increasingly strong Thai currency, by March 2008, the dollar was hovering around the 33 baht mark.
Thailand exports an increasing value of over $105 billion worth of goods and services annually.Major exports include rice, textiles and footwear, fishery products, rubber, jewelry, automobiles, computers and electrical appliances. Thailand is the world's no.1 exporter of rice, exporting more than 6.5 million tons of milled rice annually. Rice is the most important crop in the country. Thailand has the highest percent of arable land, 27.25%, of any nation in the Greater Mekong Subregion. About 55% of the available land area is used for rice production.
Substantial industries include electric appliances, components, computer parts and automobiles, while tourism makes up about 6% of the Thai economy.
Thailand uses the metric system but traditional units of measurement and imperial measure (feet, inches) are still much in use, particularly for agriculture and building materials. Years are numbered as B.E. (Buddhist Era) in education, the civil service, government, and on contracts and newspaper datelines; in banking, however, and increasingly in industry and commerce, standard Western year (Christian or Common Era) counting prevails