BANGKOK, April 2, 2006 - Thailand, which is holding early elections Sunday, is a constitutional monarchy nominally headed by revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The following are key facts about Thailand.
- GEOGRAPHY: A Southeast Asian country surrounded by the Gulf of Thailand, the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean. Thailand borders Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia.
- POPULATION: 63 million people.
- Bangkok (pop. eight million). Other main cities are Songkhla, Chon Buri, Chiang Mai.
- LANGUAGES: Thai (official), Chinese, Malaysian, English.
- RELIGIONS: Therevada Buddhism (94 percent), Muslim (four percent), Christian (one percent), other (one percent).
- HISTORY: Thailand, formerly known as Siam, is unique among its neighbours never to have been colonized. It has been a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government ever since a bloodless coup on June 24, 1932 overthrew the absolute monarchy.
After a period of political instability, the reign of current King Bhumibol Adulyadej, which started in 1946 and has been the longest in royal history, ushered in an era of unprecedented economic prosperity until the Asian financial crisis of 1997.
King Bhumibol has presided over more than 20 prime ministers and 16 constitutions. Seventeen coups have taken place under his rule, which saw Thailand transformed from an agrarian state into one of Asia's most dynamic economies.
The king does not publicly arbitrate in times of crisis. However, during a popular uprising in May 1992 he chastised both the military and protest leaders to effectively bring an end to the violence.
In the past three years, Thailand had suffered a string of unforeseen disasters, beginning with the outbreak of SARS in 2003, followed just months later by a deadly strain of bird flu that has killed 14 people to date, and in early 2004 the eruption of an Islamic insurgency in its southernmost provinces in which almost 1,200 have died.
The tsunami that ripped through the Indian Ocean in December 2004 ravaged six southern provinces, killing almost 5,400 people, roughly half of them foreign holidaymakers.
- POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS: Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a 500-member House of Representatives, and a 200-member non-party Senate.
- ECONOMY: Thailand's economy doubled in size in both the 1970s and 1980s, and from 1986 to 1996 the average annual economic growth was a world record nine percent.
Growth continued at the same pace until the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the subsequent devaluation of the baht currency.
Thailand's economy took a battering during the financial crisis, but has since rebounded.
The government's 2006 growth forecast is 4.5-5.5 percent, with inflation at 3.5-4.0 percent.
Its principal industries are tourism, agriculture, textiles, automotive, electronics components, cement and tungsten. Principal products are rice, sugar cane, tapioca, corn, bananas, pineapples, rubber, shrimp and chicken.
- PER CAPITA INCOME: 91,420 baht (2,380 dollars) in 2003.
- EXTERNAL DEBT: 50.87 billion dollars at end of 2005.
- ARMED FORCES: Estimated at 300,000 troops, including some 200,000 in the army, 60,000 in the marines, and 40,000 in the air force.
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