Thailand country profile - Overview
- 31 March 2015
- From the section Asia
Thailand is the only country in south-east Asia to have escaped colonial rule. Buddhist religion, the monarchy and the military have helped to shape its society and politics.
The 1980s brought a boom to its previously agricultural economy and had a significant impact on Thai society as thousands flocked to work in industry and the services sector.
Although Thailand's recent governments have been civilian and democratically-elected, the country has seen turbulent times. The military governed, on and off, between 1947 and 1992 - a period characterised by coups, coup attempts and popular protests.
The collapse of the south-east Asian economic boom in 1997 led to public disillusion with free-market policies and encouraged the rise of populist Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was reviled by the urban elites but enjoyed widespread support among the poor, particularly in rural areas.
In September 2006, opposition to PM Thaksin came to a head and the military once again stepped into politics, carrying out a bloodless coup against him.
The move kicked off a period of seesaw politics, marked by frequent attempts by pro-Thaksin "red-shirts" and anti-Thaksin "yellow-shirts" to use mass protests as a lever to eject the other side from power.
Elections held at the end of 2007 as part of the military junta's transition back to civilian rule handed power straight back to pro-Thaksin forces, who managed to stay in power for only a year before being ousted by mass anti-Thaksin rallies.
The resulting anti-Thaksin coalition weathered frequent pro-Thaksin demonstrations - often by dint of military force - for four years before losing power in elections to a government led by Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.
Yingluck Shinawatra managed to avoid triggering violent opposition on the scale of the protests that brought down several previous governments until late 2013, when an attempt to pass a political amnesty bill - which would have allowed Mr Thaksin to return from exile - brought mass protests back to the streets of Bangkok.
The constitutional court ousted Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014 over nepotism allegations, leaving the government and country in political turmoil before the army once again seized power.
Conflict in south
Thailand has a minority Muslim, ethnic Malay population concentrated in its southern provinces.
A decades-old separatist struggle in the region - which abated in the 1980s - flared again in 2004. The violence has claimed more than 5,000 lives.
Thailand's capital, Bangkok, expanded rapidly with the influx of workers during the boom years. It is one of Asia's most vibrant and heavily-congested cities.
The large-scale sex industry that flourishes there contributed to the incidence of HIV infection - a major concern for the government.
Thailand has taken the lead in the region in distributing cheaper generic drugs for Aids sufferers and awareness campaigns are credited with reducing the number of new infections.
Since 2009, Thai troops have sporadically clashed with Cambodian forces in several disputed areas along the two countries' border.