Facts about Thailand

BANGKOK (AFP): Thailand, which is holding general elections today, is a constitutional monarchy nominally headed by revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The following are key facts about Thailand: GEOSITUATION: A Southeast Asian country surrounded by the Gulf of Thailand, the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean. Thailand borders Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia. POPULATION: 62.5 million. ETHNIC GROUPS: Thai/Lao 94 percent, Chinese four percent, others two percent. CAPITAL: Bangkok (population: 7.5 million). LANGUAGES: Thai (official), Chinese, Malaysian, English. RELIGIONS: Therevada Buddhism (94 percent), Muslim (four percent), Christian (0.5 percent), other (1.5 percent). HISTORY: Thailand, formerly known as Siam, is proud 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 in 1997. King Bhumibol has presided over more than 20 prime ministers and 16 constitutions. Seventeen coups have taken place under his rule, which has also seen Thailand transformed from an agrarian state to one of the Asia’s “tiger” economies. The king does not publicly arbitrate during times of crisis. However, during a popular uprising in May 1992 he chastized both the military and demonstration leaders to bring an end to the violence. POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS: Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a 500-member National Assembly, 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 was on the same pace until the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the subsequent devaluation of the Thai baht. Thailand last year completed an IMF program aimed at solving its economic problems, but growth for 2000 is now estimated at only 4.5 percent due to rising oil prices and depreciation of the baht. Last year also saw the stock market lose 40 percent of its value (an Asian record), the baht’s fall to 44 to the dollar, a decrease in foreign investment, a flight of capital and, most disturbingly, new defaults in loan payments. Thailand’s principal industries are tourism, agriculture, textiles, cement, and tungsten. Principal products are rice, sugar cane, tapioca, corn, bananas, pineapples, rubber, shrimp, and chicken. PER CAPITA INCOME: 1,873 dollars in 2000. EXTERNAL DEBT: 82 billion dollars forecast for 2000. ARMED FORCES: Estimated at 305,000 troops, including 200,000 in the army, 62,000 in the marines, and 43,000 in the air force.

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