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An overview of Thailand, taken from the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C.’s webpage.

 

     The Kingdom of Thailand is situated in the heart of Southeast Asia, with Bangkok as the capital city. Thailand's land area is 198,114 square miles, the shape of which resembles the head of an elephant. The country shares a border with Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. It borders two bodies of water, the Gulf of Thailand and the Indian Ocean. Thailand measures approximately 1,553 miles north to south and 776 miles east to west. It is roughly the size of Texas. It has 1,143 coastal miles on the Gulf of Thailand and 528 miles on the Indian Ocean. …

     Thailand has a warm, tropical climate affected by an annual monsoon, with a rainy season from June to October and a dry season the rest of the year. Temperatures average 75 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit, with the highest temperatures from March to May and the lowest in December and January.

     There are conflicting opinions as to the origins of the Thais.  Three decades ago it could be said with presumed certainty that the Thais originated in the southern part of what is now China about 4,500 years ago.  Recently, however, this theory has been altered by the discovery of prehistoric artifacts in the village of Ban Chiang in the Northeast.  These include evidence of bronze metallurgy going back 3,500 years, as well as other indication of a far more sophisticated culture than any previously suspected by archaeologists. 

     The population of Thailand is now 60 million, about 10 million of whom live in the capital city of Bangkok.  The largest ethnic minority is the Chinese and other ethnic groups include Malays, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and Indians. 

     The official national language, spoken by almost 100 percent of the population, is Thai.  It is a tonal language, uninflected, and predominantly monosyllabic borrowed mainly from Khmer, Pali, or Sanskrit. Dialects are spoken in rural areas. Chinese and Malay are also, spoken in some areas, and English is spoken and widely in Bangkok and major cities. 

     Buddhism is the faith of 95 percent of the population. There is absolute freedom of religion; Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and other faiths are practiced and protected by the constitution. 

     The only country in Southeast Asia never colonized, Thailand was known for centuries as Siam. Thailand’s government structure has undergone gradual and practical evolution in response to the changing environment.  Ever since 1932, it has been a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentarian form of government.   The bicameral parliament is composed of elected representatives and appointed senators. The Prime Minister is selected from among members of the House of Representatives. Appointed governors administer 75 of the country's 76 provinces. The Bangkok Metropolis Administration is administered by an elected governor and is divided into 38 districts.  The country is divided into 76 provinces, each administered by an appointed governor, which are sub-divided into district, sub-districts, and villages. …

     There are roughly three key  ingredients to Thai politics.  The first and foremost is that His Majesty the King  is the head of the armed forces and upholder of Buddhism and all other religions.  Every constitution provides that His Majesty the King’s person is sacred and inviolable.  His sovereign power emanates from the people, and he exercises his legislative power through parliament, executive power through the cabinet headed by a prime minister and judicial power through the country.  The monarch is empowered with the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to admonish warnings whenever the government appears not to be administering  the state affairs for the good of the people. 

     The second concept concerns the legislative branch.  The first constitution was a cautious document that created a bicameral National Assembly with two categories of members, the House of Representative (the lower house) which were elected by the popular vote, and the Senate (the Upper House) which were appointed by the King on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers/Cabinet.  The number of members in the House of Representatives is determined by the size of the population, while the number of senators is not to exceed 75% of   the total number of representatives. 

     The third concept concerns the executive branch.  Every constitution holds that the Prime Minister is head of the government and chief executive. 

     The most recent political development is the approval of the new constitution in September 1997.  Under the previous electoral system, voters elected one or more candidates in their local districts.   This produced Members of Parliament who focused on providing benefits to their districts, not to their party nor to the nation as whole.  The new constitution creates a two-part electoral system, in which each voter votes for one candidate in the district and another from a party list of candidates who are nationally elected.  This system will produce more MPs with a national outlook, and attract into politics qualified people, such as technocrats and academic experts, who otherwise would not run in an election. 

     During the 51 years of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej's reign, Thailand has enjoyed enviable economic growth. With its agrarian base and dynamic private sector as its bedrock, Thailand boasts a complex export-led economy which embraces the latest technologies and includes tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, minerals and communications. …

     Up until July of last year, Thailand has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.  Its private sector-oriented business policy has been fiscally and monetarily conservative and based on close cooperation between the public and private sectors.  To avoid any dependence on any one foreign country, Thailand sought investment and trade from all countries encouraging foreign direct investment as a means of promoting economic development, employment, and technology transfer.  These policies produced high growth rates and low inflation. …

 

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