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Thailand-Historical Background





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Thailand Index

Thai Buddhism was based on the religious movement founded in the sixth century B.C. by Siddhartha Gautama Sakyamuni, later known as the Buddha, who urged the world to relinquish the extremes of sensuality and self-mortification and follow the enlightened Middle Way. The focus was on man, not gods; the assumption was that life was pain or suffering, which was a consequence of craving, and that suffering could end only if desire ceased. The end of suffering was the achievement of nirvana (in Theravada Buddhist scriptures, nibbana), often defined negatively as the absence of craving and therefore of suffering, sometimes as enlightenment or bliss.

By the third century B.C., Buddhism had spread widely in Asia, and divergent interpretations of the Buddha's teachings had led to the establishment of several sects. The teachings that reached Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) were given in a final written form in Pali (an Indo-Aryan language closely related to Sanskrit) to religious centers there in the first century A.D. and provided the Tipitaka (the scriptures or "three baskets"; in Sanskrit, Tripitaka) of Theravada Buddhism. This form of Buddhism reached what is now Thailand around the sixth century A.D. Theravada Buddhism was made the state religion only with the establishment of the Thai kingdom of Sukhothai in the thirteenth century A.D. (see Early History , ch. 1).

The details of the history of Buddhism in Thailand from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century are obscure, in part because few historical records or religious texts survived the Burmese destruction of Ayutthaya, the capital city of the kingdom, in 1767. The anthropologist-historian S.J. Tambiah, however, has suggested a general pattern for that era, at least with respect to the relations between Buddhism and the sangha on the one hand and the king on the other hand. In Thailand, as in other Theravada Buddhist kingdoms, the king was in principle thought of as patron and protector of the religion (sasana) and the sangha, while sasana and the sangha were considered in turn the treasures of the polity and the signs of its legitimacy. Religion and polity, however, remained separate domains, and in ordinary times the organizational links between the sangha and the king were not close.

Among the chief characteristics of Thai kingdoms and principalities in the centuries before 1800 were the tendency to expand and contract, problems of succession, and the changing scope of the king's authority. In effect, some Thai kings had greater power over larger territories, others less, and almost invariably a king who sought successfully to expand his power also exercised greater control over the sangha. That control was coupled with greater support and patronage of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. When a king was weak, however, protection and supervision of the sangha also weakened, and the sangha declined. This fluctuating pattern appears to have continued until the emergence of the Chakkri Dynasty in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

By the nineteenth century, and especially with the coming to power in 1851 of King Mongkut, who had been a monk himself for twenty-seven years, the sangha, like the kingdom, became steadily more centralized and hierarchical in nature and its links to the state more institutionalized. As a monk, Mongkut was a distinguished scholar of Pali Buddhist scripture. Moreover, at that time the immigration of numbers of Mon from Burma was introducing the more rigorous discipline characteristic of the Mon sangha. Influenced by the Mon and guided by his own understanding of the Tipitaka, Mongkut began a reform movement that later became the basis for the Dhammayuttika order of monks. Under the reform, all practices having no authority other than custom were to be abandoned, canonical regulations were to be followed not mechanically but in spirit, and acts intended to improve an individual's standing on the road to nirvana but having no social value were rejected. This more rigorous discipline was adopted in its entirety by only a small minority of monasteries and monks. The Mahanikaya order, perhaps somewhat influenced by Mongkut's reforms but with a less exacting discipline than the Dhammayuttika order, comprised about 95 percent of all monks in 1970 and probably about the same percentage in the late 1980s. In any case, Mongkut was in a position to regularize and tighten the relations between monarchy and sangha at a time when the monarchy was expanding its control over the country in general and developing the kind of bureaucracy necessary to such control. The administrative and sangha reforms that Mongkut started were continued by his successor. In 1902 King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868-1910) made the new sangha hierarchy formal and permanent through the Sangha Law of 1902, which remained the foundation of sangha administration in modern Thailand.

Data as of September 1987



BackgroundA unified Thai kingdom was established in the mid-14th century. Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power. A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. In alliance with Japan during World War II, Thailand became a US treaty ally following the conflict. A military coup in September 2006 ousted then Prime Minister THAKSIN Chinnawat. The interim government held elections in December 2007 that saw the former pro-THAKSIN People's Power Party (PPP) emerge at the head of a coalition government. The anti-THAKSIN People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in May 2008 began street demonstrations against the new government, eventually occupying the prime minister's office in August. Clashes in October 2008 between PAD protesters blocking parliament and police resulted in the death of at least two people. The PAD occupied Bangkok's two international airports briefly, ending their protests in early December 2008 following a court ruling that dissolved the ruling PPP and two other coalition parties for election violations. The Democrat Party then formed a new coalition government with the support of some of THAKSIN's former political allies, and ABHISIT Wetchachiwa became prime minister. Since January 2004, thousands have been killed as separatists in Thailand's southern ethnic Malay-Muslim provinces increased the violence associated with their cause.
LocationSoutheastern Asia, bordering the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, southeast of Burma
Area(sq km)total: 513,120 sq km
land: 510,890 sq km
water: 2,230 sq km
Geographic coordinates15 00 N, 100 00 E
Land boundaries(km)total: 4,863 km
border countries: Burma 1,800 km, Cambodia 803 km, Laos 1,754 km, Malaysia 506 km

Coastline(km)3,219 km

Climatetropical; rainy, warm, cloudy southwest monsoon (mid-May to September); dry, cool northeast monsoon (November to mid-March); southern isthmus always hot and humid

Elevation extremes(m)lowest point: Gulf of Thailand 0 m
highest point: Doi Inthanon 2,576 m
Natural resourcestin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead, fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorite, arable land
Land use(%)arable land: 27.54%
permanent crops: 6.93%
other: 65.53% (2005)

Irrigated land(sq km)49,860 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources(cu km)409.9 cu km (1999)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)total: 82.75 cu km/yr (2%/2%/95%)
per capita: 1,288 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazardsland subsidence in Bangkok area resulting from the depletion of the water table; droughts
Environment - current issuesair pollution from vehicle emissions; water pollution from organic and factory wastes; deforestation; soil erosion; wildlife populations threatened by illegal hunting
Environment - international agreementsparty to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea
Geography - notecontrols only land route from Asia to Malaysia and Singapore
Population65,905,410
note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (July 2009 est.)
Age structure(%)0-14 years: 20.8% (male 7,009,845/female 6,691,470)
15-64 years: 70.5% (male 22,977,945/female 23,512,538)
65 years and over: 8.7% (male 2,594,387/female 3,119,225) (2009 est.)
Median age(years)total: 33.3 years
male: 32.4 years
female: 34.2 years (2009 est.)
Population growth rate(%)0.615% (2009 est.)
Birth rate(births/1,000 population)13.4 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Death rate(deaths/1,000 population)7.25 deaths/1,000 population (July 2009 est.)

Net migration rate(migrant(s)/1,000 population)NA (2009 est.)
Urbanization(%)urban population: 33% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 1.7% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
Sex ratio(male(s)/female)at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.83 male(s)/female
total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Infant mortality rate(deaths/1,000 live births)total: 17.63 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 18.9 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 16.3 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)

Life expectancy at birth(years)total population: 73.1 years
male: 70.77 years
female: 75.55 years (2009 est.)

Total fertility rate(children born/woman)1.65 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Nationalitynoun: Thai (singular and plural)
adjective: Thai
Ethnic groups(%)Thai 75%, Chinese 14%, other 11%

Religions(%)Buddhist 94.6%, Muslim 4.6%, Christian 0.7%, other 0.1% (2000 census)
Languages(%)Thai, English (secondary language of the elite), ethnic and regional dialects

Country nameconventional long form: Kingdom of Thailand
conventional short form: Thailand
local long form: Ratcha Anachak Thai
local short form: Prathet Thai
former: Siam
Government typeconstitutional monarchy
Capitalname: Bangkok
geographic coordinates: 13 45 N, 100 31 E
time difference: UTC+7 (12 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions76 provinces (changwat, singular and plural); Amnat Charoen, Ang Thong, Buriram, Chachoengsao, Chai Nat, Chaiyaphum, Chanthaburi, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chon Buri, Chumphon, Kalasin, Kamphaeng Phet, Kanchanaburi, Khon Kaen, Krabi, Krung Thep Mahanakhon (Bangkok), Lampang, Lamphun, Loei, Lop Buri, Mae Hong Son, Maha Sarakham, Mukdahan, Nakhon Nayok, Nakhon Pathom, Nakhon Phanom, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nakhon Sawan, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Nan, Narathiwat, Nong Bua Lamphu, Nong Khai, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Pattani, Phangnga, Phatthalung, Phayao, Phetchabun, Phetchaburi, Phichit, Phitsanulok, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Phrae, Phuket, Prachin Buri, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Ranong, Ratchaburi, Rayong, Roi Et, Sa Kaeo, Sakon Nakhon, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram, Sara Buri, Satun, Sing Buri, Sisaket, Songkhla, Sukhothai, Suphan Buri, Surat Thani, Surin, Tak, Trang, Trat, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani, Uthai Thani, Uttaradit, Yala, Yasothon
Constitution24-Aug-07

Legal systembased on civil law system with influences of common law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage18 years of age; universal and compulsory
Executive branchchief of state: King PHUMIPHON Adunyadet, also spelled BHUMIBOL Adulyadej (since 9 June 1946)
head of government: Prime Minister ABHISIT Wetchachiwa, also spelled ABHISIT Vejjajiva (since 17 December 2008); Deputy Prime Minister KORBSAK Saphawasu, also spelled KORBSAK Sabhavasu (since 22 December 2008); Deputy Prime Minister SANAN Kachornprasat, also spelled SANAN Kachornparsart (since 7 February 2008); Deputy Prime Minister SUTHEP Thueaksuban, also spelled SUTHEP Thaugsuban (since 22 December 2008)
cabinet: Council of Ministers
note: there is also a Privy Council advising the king
elections: the monarch is hereditary; according to 2007 constitution, the prime minister is elected from among members of House of Representatives; following national elections for House of Representatives, the leader of the party positioned to organize a majority coalition usually becomes prime minister by appintment by the king; the prime minister is limited to two four-year terms

Legislative branchbicameral National Assembly or Rathasapha consisted of the Senate or Wuthisapha (150 seats; 76 members elected by popular vote representing 76 provinces, 74 appointed by judges and independent government bodies; all serve six-year terms) and the House of Representatives or Sapha Phuthaen Ratsadon (480 seats; 400 members elected from 157 multi-seat constituencies and 80 elected on proportional party-list basis of 10 per eight zones or groupings of provinces; all serve four-year terms)
elections: Senate - last held on 2 March 2008 (next to be held in March 2014); House of Representatives - last election held on 23 December 2007 (next to be held by December 2011)
election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - NA; House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - PPP 233, DP 164, TNP 34, Motherland 24, Middle Way 11, Unity 9, Royalist People's 5; following the PPP's dissolution in December 2008, most of the party's seats were assumed by its successor, the Phuea Thai Party
note: 74 senators were appointed on 19 February 2008 by a seven-member committee headed by the chief of the Constitutional Court; 76 senators were elected on 2 March 2008; elections to the Senate are non-partisan; registered political party members are disqualified from being senators

Judicial branchConstitutional Court, Supreme Court of Justice, and Supreme Administrative Court; all judges are appointed by the king; the king's appointments to the Constitutional Courtare made upon the advice of the Senate; the nine Constitutional Court judges are drawn from the Supreme Court of Justice and Supreme Administrative Court as well as from among substantive experts in law and social sciences outside the judiciary

Political pressure groups and leadersPeople's Alliance for Democracy or PAD; United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship or UDD
International organization participationADB, APEC, APT, ARF, ASEAN, BIMSTEC, BIS, CP, EAS, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt (signatory), ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC, MIGA, NAM, OAS (observer), OIC (observer), OIF (observer), OPCW, OSCE (partner), PCA, PIF (partner), UN, UNAMID, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNMIS, UNWTO, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO
Flag descriptionfive horizontal bands of red (top), white, blue (double width), white, and red

Economy - overviewWith a well-developed infrastructure, a free-enterprise economy, and generally pro-investment policies, Thailand was one of East Asia's best performers from 2002-04, averaging more than 6% annual real GDP growth. However, overall economic growth has fallen sharply - averaging 4.9% from 2005 to 2007 - as persistent political crisis stalled infrastructure mega-projects, eroded investor and consumer confidence, and damaged the country's international image. The growth rate fell to 2.6% in 2008. Exports were the key economic driver as foreign investment and consumer demand stalled. Export growth from January 2005 to November 2008 averaged 17.5% annually. Business uncertainty escalated, however, following the September 2006 coup when the military-installed government imposed capital controls and considered far-reaching changes to foreign investment rules and other business legislation. Although controversial capital controls have since been lifted and business rules largely remain unchanged, investor sentiment has not recovered. Moreover, the 2008 global financial crisis further darkened Thailand's economic horizon. Continued political uncertainty will hamper resumption of infrastructure mega-projects.
GDP (purchasing power parity)$548.7 billion (2008 est.)
$534.8 billion (2007 est.)
$509.8 billion (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP (official exchange rate)$273.3 billion (2008 est.)
GDP - real growth rate(%)2.6% (2008 est.)
4.9% (2007 est.)
5.2% (2006 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP)$8,400 (2008 est.)
$8,200 (2007 est.)
$7,900 (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector(%)agriculture: 11.6%
industry: 45.1%
services: 43.3% (2008 est.)
Labor force37.78 million (2008 est.)

Labor force - by occupation(%)agriculture: 42.6%
industry: 20.2%
services: 37.1% (2005 est.)
Unemployment rate(%)1.4% (2008 est.)
1.4% (2007 est.)
Population below poverty line(%)10% (2004 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share(%)lowest 10%: 2.6%
highest 10%: 33.7% (2004)
Distribution of family income - Gini index42 (2002)
Investment (gross fixed)(% of GDP)27.3% of GDP (2008 est.)
Budgetrevenues: $48.24 billion
expenditures: $51.33 billion (2008 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices)(%)5.5% (2008 est.)
2.2% (2007 est.)

Stock of money$28.76 billion (31 December 2008)
$28.63 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of quasi money$237.5 billion (31 December 2008)
$224.9 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of domestic credit$274.1 billion (31 December 2008)
$263.5 billion (31 December 2007)
Market value of publicly traded shares$102.6 billion (31 December 2008)
$196 billion (31 December 2007)
$141.1 billion (31 December 2006)
Economic aid - recipient$171.1 million (2005)

Public debt(% of GDP)37.9% of GDP (2008 est.)
47.6% of GDP (November 2004 est.)
Agriculture - productsrice, cassava (tapioca), rubber, corn, sugarcane, coconuts, soybeans
Industriestourism, textiles and garments, agricultural processing, beverages, tobacco, cement, light manufacturing such as jewelry and electric appliances, computers and parts, integrated circuits, furniture, plastics, automobiles and automotive parts; world's second-largest tungsten producer and third-largest tin producer

Industrial production growth rate(%)3.4% (2008 est.)

Current account balance-$113 million (2008 est.)
$15.76 billion (2007 est.)
Exports$175.3 billion (2008 est.)
$150 billion (2007 est.)

Exports - commodities(%)textiles and footwear, fishery products, rice, rubber, jewelry, automobiles, computers and electrical appliances
Exports - partners(%)US 11.4%, Japan 11.4%, China 9.2%, Singapore 5.7%, Hong Kong 5.6%, Malaysia 5.6%, Australia 4.3% (2008)
Imports$157.3 billion (2008 est.)
$124.5 billion (2007 est.)

Imports - commodities(%)capital goods, intermediate goods and raw materials, consumer goods, fuels
Imports - partners(%)Japan 18.8%, China 11.2%, US 6.4%, UAE 6%, Malaysia 5.5%, Saudi Arabia 4.1%, Singapore 4% (2008)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold$111 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$87.46 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Debt - external$65.09 billion (31 December 2008)
$61.74 billion (31 December 2007)

Stock of direct foreign investment - at home$80.83 billion (2007 est.)
Stock of direct foreign investment - abroad$7.013 billion (2007 est.)
Exchange ratesbaht per US dollar - 33.37 (2008 est.), 34.52 (2007), 37.882 (2006), 40.22 (2005), 40.222 (2004)

Currency (code)baht (THB)

Telephones - main lines in use7.024 million (2008)
Telephones - mobile cellular62 million (2008)
Telephone systemgeneral assessment: high quality system, especially in urban areas like Bangkok
domestic: fixed line system provided by both a government owned and commercial provider; wireless service expanding rapidly and outpacing fixed lines
international: country code - 66; connected to major submarine cable systems providing links throughout Asia, Australia, Middle East, Europe, and US; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (1 Indian Ocean, 1 Pacific Ocean)
Internet country code.th
Internet users16.1 million (2008)
Airports105 (2009)
Pipelines(km)gas 1,348 km; refined products 323 km (2008)
Roadways(km)total: 180,053 km (includes 450 km of expressways) (2006)

Ports and terminalsBangkok, Laem Chabang, Prachuap Port, Si Racha
Military branchesRoyal Thai Army (Kongthap Bok Thai, RTA), Royal Thai Navy (Kongthap Ruea Thai, RTN, includes Royal Thai Marine Corps), Royal Thai Air Force (Kongtap Agard Thai, RTAF) (2009)
Military service age and obligation(years of age)21 years of age for compulsory military service; 18 years of age for voluntary military service; males are registered at 18 years of age; 2-year conscript service obligation (2007)
Manpower available for military servicemales age 16-49: 17,553,410
females age 16-49: 17,751,268 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military servicemales age 16-49: 13,086,106
females age 16-49: 14,126,398 (2009 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annuallymale: 532,977
female: 510,737 (2009 est.)
Military expenditures(% of GDP)1.8% of GDP (2005 est.)
Disputes - internationalseparatist violence in Thailand's predominantly Muslim southern provinces prompt border closures and controls with Malaysia to stem terrorist activities; Southeast Asian states have enhanced border surveillance to check the spread of avian flu; talks continue on completion of demarcation with Laos but disputes remain over several islands in the Mekong River; despite continuing border committee talks, Thailand must deal with Karen and other ethnic rebels, refugees, and illegal cross-border activities, and as of 2006, over 116,000 Karen, Hmong, and other refugees and asylum seekers from Burma; Cambodia and Thailand dispute sections of historic boundary with missing boundary markers; Cambodia claims Thai encroachments into Cambodian territory and obstructing access to Preah Vihear temple ruins awarded to Cambodia by ICJ decision in 1962; Thailand is studying the feasibility of jointly constructing the Hatgyi Dam on the Salween river near the border with Burma; in 2004, international environmentalist pressure prompted China to halt construction of 13 dams on the Salween River that flows through China, Burma, and Thailand

Refugees and internally displaced personsrefugees (country of origin): 132,241 (Burma) (2007)
Electricity - production(kWh)135.2 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - production by source(%)fossil fuel: 91.3%
hydro: 6.4%
nuclear: 0%
other: 2.4% (2001)
Electricity - consumption(kWh)129.5 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - exports(kWh)773 million kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - imports(kWh)2.784 billion kWh (2008 est.)
Oil - production(bbl/day)361,300 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - consumption(bbl/day)942,000 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - exports(bbl/day)216,400 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - imports(bbl/day)826,000 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - proved reserves(bbl)441 million bbl (1 January 2009 est.)
Natural gas - production(cu m)28.76 billion cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - consumption(cu m)37.31 billion cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - exports(cu m)0 cu m (2008)
Natural gas - proved reserves(cu m)317.1 billion cu m (1 January 2009 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate(%)1.4% (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS610,000 (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths30,000 (2007 est.)
Major infectious diseasesdegree of risk: high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea
vectorborne diseases: dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, and malaria
animal contact disease: rabies
water contact disease: leptospirosis
note: highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza has been identified in this country; it poses a negligible risk with extremely rare cases possible among US citizens who have close contact with birds (2009)
Literacy(%)definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 92.6%
male: 94.9%
female: 90.5% (2000 census)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)(years)total: 14 years
male: 13 years
female: 14 years (2006)
Education expenditures(% of GDP)4.2% of GDP (2005)








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