Originally known as Siam, the kingdom was unified in the mid-14th century and became a constitutional monarchy in 1932 after a nonviolent revolution. Recurring coups have since escalated into large-scale political turmoil spurred by party division and grievances against leaders, and in 2014, the government was thrown into interim military rule. The military has said general elections will be held in 2018.
A substantial agriculture sector and competitive manufacturing industry have kept Thailand strong and growing with low poverty and unemployment rates. It is the world’s largest exporter of rice and a leader in textiles, tin and electronics. Western education and technology have been absorbed into a devout Buddhist society.
Thailand is one of the world’s most visited countries, though tourism accounts for just 7 percent of gross domestic product. Buddha figures are ever-present in the “land of smiles,” where bustling, modern cities are juxtaposed with ancient ruins, glistening beaches and gilded temples. The nation is home to the acclaimed Thai massage and cuisine that is known to balance sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy flavors.
The Thai ideas of monarchy date to the 13th century and today royalty plays a vital role in everyday life. The country’s “lèse majesté” laws criminalize defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent. Longtime monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej died after seven decades on the throne. His son Maha Vajiralongkorn succeeded as king.
The country has a growing Muslim minority, largely concentrated in the south, where there have been violent separatist movements for more than a decade. Thailand also faces challenges with human trafficking and illegal immigration, especially among refugees from Myanmar.
Thailand was a founding member of the ASEAN Regional Forum and a signer of the Manila Pact, which formed the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. It is also a Partner for Cooperation with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and a member of the United Nations, APEC and the World Bank, among others.
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